(Above:Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers bring a whole new shade to “Purple Haze.”)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Four tour buses lined the streets near the Power and Light District, each painted with classic album covers and photographs. Their bright colors could be seen from blocks away, heralding the arrival of a six-string circus.
Covered with images of Jimi Hendrix, there was little doubt what brought the caravan of nearly 20 musicians to the Midland Theater on Wednesday. The Experience Hendrix tribute clocked in at nearly three hours, or just slightly longer than the time it takes to play the three studio albums Hendrix released in his lifetime back-to-back-to-back.
Hendrix’ army buddy and Band of Gypsy’s bass player Billy Cox opened the night and as expected the guitar pyrotechnics started almost immediately. Byron Bordeaux was the first to impress with his solo on “Machine Gun.” A terrific exchange between Dweezil Zappa and Indigenous axeman Mato Nanji on “Manic Depression” was another early high point.
Eric Johnson’s six-song mini-set was the music equivalent of driving with hands firmly planted at 10 and two on the steering wheel and keeping the needle glued to 55. Johnson’s thin, reedy voice was incapable of creating any energy, a trait especially missed on “Power of Soul.” While technically proficient, Johnson’s fretwork also failed to capture the freedom and spontaneity that underlined Hendrix’ work.
Robert Randolph’s segment nailed the other end of the spectrum. The pedal steel stylist had the crowd dancing for all of his set. Randolph was accompanied by the Slide Brothers, and hearing “Purple Haze” performed by three pedal steel guitars placed the classic number in a new context. When bass player/vocalist Henri Brown tried to wrap up “Them Changes,” a tribute to Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles, Randolph kept on playing, eventually leading the ensemble into a gospel romp.
Between the Johnson and Randolph sets, Doyle Bramhall II provided the only acoustic moment of the night with his riveting solo performance of “Hear My Train A-Comin’.” He was followed by an outstanding blues set by Taj Mahal that found Mahal channeling Howlin Wolf on “Catfish Blues” and jamming with Cox on “Hey Joe.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd also led his band through a three-song set that included a lengthy performance of “Voodoo Child.”
Although the musicians at the front of the stage rotated, Chris Layton, the drummer with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, manned the kit for the entire night. The evening closed with many of the musicians reunited onstage for “Red House.”
The lineup for Tuesday’s Experience Hendrix concert at the Uptown Theater seemed to set up a joke: How many guitarists does it take to pay tribute to the most celebrated axeman of all time? The answer: Fourteen, including half of Los Lobos, all of Living Colour, a pair of virtuosos, a handful of bluesmen and several contemporaries.
Billy Cox, the Band of Gypsys bass player and Jimi Hendrix’ last living band mate, opened the night with a heartfelt thank you and romp through “Stone Free.” Backing him on drums was Chris Layton, better known for his time backing Stevie Ray Vaughan in Double Trouble, and Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers. The star-power of the opening lineup may have had the loaded house drooling over their guitar magazines, but they didn’t have long to revel.
Every 20 minutes or so, another pairing of musicians emerged, each seeming to emphasize a different aspect of Hendrix’ music. His rhythm and blues roots came out in Living Colour’s set, while members of Los Lobos paid tribute to his roots and Kenny Wayne Shepherd emphasized the rock star angle.
Jonny Lang’s performance of “Fire” was the first explosive moment of the night. Backed by Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and a vivacious chorus of singers, Lang’s feverish vocals and impassioned playing drove the crowd to their feet. Whitford was finally able to emerge from the long shadow of his Aerosmith band mate Joe Perry as he and Lang traded solos.
Lang’s set was followed by Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s explosive interpretation of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Knowing his boss was about to burn down the fret board, singer Noah Hunt, who also sings in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, abandoned the stage after completing his verses. Alone onstage, save the rhythm section of Layton and Scott Nelson, Shepherd struck about every rock star pose imaginable as he soloed endlessly to the rapture of the crowd.
Susan Tedeschi was the lone intruder into this guy’s night out. Although she wasn’t given a set of her own, each of her frequent guest appearances was inspiring. Her singing on “One Rainy Wish” added an earthy sensuality and vulnerability to Hendrix’ lyrics, and her tasty guitar solos were a welcome relief from the pyrotechnics.
The night’s two dozen songs spotlighted classic rock staples “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” and also unearthed some deeper treasures. Cox celebrated the guitarist he met in the Army with “Message of Love,” a song he a Hendrix recorded on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Eric Johnson embraced Hendrix’ love of unusual textures with the deep cut “House Burning Down.”
Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel brought new life into “Purple Haze.” The result wasn’t too different from what Randolph’s Family Band typically serves up, but the playing was much more elastic bouncing between the trio of steel guitars. Eric Johnson enlisted three drummers to help summon the heavy, drugged feel on “Are You Experienced.” Later, Joe Satriani had no trouble coaxing alien sounds from his guitar during “Third Stone From the Sun.”
Midway through the set, guitarist emeritus Hubert Sumlin emerged to represent the pre-Hendrix guitar world. Backed by Tedeschi, and Cesar Rosas and David Hildago of Los Lobos, Sumlin showed none of his 78 years powering through “Killing Floor,” a song he originally cut with Howlin’ Wolf for Chess Records in 1966. While all the expected heavy hitters drew big responses, some of the evening’s best moments occurred during songs Hendrix didn’t write. Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel teamed with Cox and Living Colour singer Corey Glover for a jubilant gallop through Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” Cox tried to end the number, but Randolph wouldn’t let it stop, motivating Glover’s fervent yelps with his riffs. Early in the night, Isley’s unaccompanied incorporation of “Amazing Grace,” mostly played with his teeth, brought back shades of Woodstock.
After every trick and novelty had been exhausted, Cox returned to the stage and closed the night with the blues staple “Red House.” When all the performers were brought out for a final bow, they extended nearly all the way across the stage. Evidently it takes a lot of bodies to fill some very big shoes.
PROGRAM Stone Free – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley Message To Love – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley Manic Depression > Amazing Grace – Ernie Isley Power of Soul – Living Colour Crosstown Traffic – Living Colour House Burning Down – Eric Johnson Bold As Love – Eric Johnson One Rainy Wish – Eric Johnson, Susan Tedeschi Are You Experienced – Eric Johnson, Will Calhoun Fire – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford The Wind Cries Mary – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford Spanish Castle Magic – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford, Susan Tedeschi I Don’t Live Today – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt Come One – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt Voodoo Chile > Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt Can You See Me – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas Little Wing – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas Killing Floor – Hubert Sumlin, David Hildago, Cesar Rosas, Susan Tedeschi Purple Haze – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel Them Changes – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel, Billy Cox, Corey Glover Third Stone from the Sun – Joe Satriani, Corey Glover, Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun Foxy Lady – Joe Satriani, Living Colour All Along the Watchtower – Joe Satriani, Living Colour Red House – Billy Cox, Joe Satriani, Brad Whitford, Robert Randolph, Will Calhoun
Note: Except when replaced by Living Colour or Billy Cox, Chris Layton and Scott Nelson played drums and bass. The Sacred Steel is Robert Randolph, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent. Living Colour is Will Calhoun, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish.
(Above: Robert Randolph and the Family Band examine the “Man in the Mirror.”)
By Joel Francis
The Kasnas City Star
As the temperature dipped into the low 60s Saturday night at Crossroads, Robert Randolph and his family band mounted a two-front war: against the elements and against early onset hibernation in the crowd.
Pedal steel virtuoso Randolph and his six-piece band immediately conquered the weather. Opening with the buoyant “Good Times (3 Stroke),” Randolph frequently jumped out from behind his instrument to hop around like his own hype man. That proved more than enough to get the blood flowing.
For whatever reason, the band had more trouble winning over the audience. The third-full venue was populated with people who would rather converse and take their pictures on cell phones than dance and listen. The only times the crowd was engaged was when Randolph gave them something to do, like clap or sing. Everything else was background music.
When the night’s first Michael Jackson tribute – “Man in the Mirror,” delivered gospel-style by Randolph’s sister Lenesha Randolph – failed to rouse the crowd, Randolph segued into a John Lee Hooker boogie. Inviting dozens of ladies onstage to shake their hips did the trick during the number, but once the song was over it seemed everyone wanted to talk about what or who they saw onstage.
“Nobody” offered plenty of participation during the chorus and several encouraged call-and-responses. For a moment it seemed like everything would gel, but mic problems capsized “Gilligan,” scat-vocal number about the Minnow’s castaways played on a square Bo Diddley guitar, and the crowd grew restless with the ensuing jam.
Finally, after 75 minutes onstage, Randolph got the crowd on board. “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do” had plenty of cues to clap and stomp along and the audience joyously obliged. That bled into “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That,” which teased the riff to “Whole Lotta Love” and featured an organ sound straight out of “96 Tears.”
The second Jackson tribute went over better than the first. Sliding into the melody of “Rock With You” after a brief encore break, Randolph, who has been playing MJ songs long before the King of Pop’s passing, gave the crowd a forum to both sing and dance. The night ended with “Roll Up,” an unreleased number similar to what Randolph had been serving all night. This time everyone was up for it.
Randolph’s upbeat music rocks the middle ground between gospel and funk, and his songs are basically vamps and choruses. His band can ride a groove into the sunset, but when the organ player leaned into his B3 with some gospel chords the performance kicked up another level.
Wearing a silk do-rag, pink tie, dress shirt, black vest, plaid shorts and knee-high black nylon socks, Randolph looked like a cross between LL Cool J and a middle infielder. If he was frustrated by the distracted crowd, Randolph didn’t show it. He grinned from ear to ear all night, dancing in his seat under the pedal steel or two-stepping across the stage behind a six-string.
When the parade of ladies left the stage after “Shake Your Hips” several of them planted a kiss on Randolph’s cheek. Lost in his playing, Randolph never looked up or acknowledged the gesture. He was wise to ignore the adulation from a crowd that gave little more than lip service for most of the night.
Setlist: Good Times (3 Stroke), Deliver Me, Man in the Mirror, Shake Your Hips, Black Betty, Nobody, Das EFX, Gilligan, I Don’t Know What You Come To Do, Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That, (Encore) Rock With You, Roll Up
(Below: Paper setlists are so passe. Photo by Joe Hutchison.)
Above: Robert Randolph persuades the ladies of Albany to shake their hips.
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
A casino is as unlikely a setting for church as beer employees are a congregation. Yet on Friday night, Robert Randolph and the Family Band snuck 90 minutes of gospel on an unsuspecting crowd that loved every minute of it.
The quintet opened with a jam that sounded like the Allman Brothers dropped into an AME church, and found Randolph grinning from ear to ear, smacking his gum while working the horizontal fretboard of his pedal steel guitar.
The next song up, “I Need More Love,” was propelled by a funky six-string bassline and sounded like a lost Sly and the Family Stone track. Swaying in his seat, Randolph segued perfectly into an instrumental cover of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” that kept everyone on the dance floor moving.
After the MJ workout, Randolph stood up and strapped on Telecaster for a country-flavored jam led by some call-and-response vocals by his sister Lenesha Randolph. He was quickly back behind the pedal steel, though, for a John Lee Hooker boogie that packed three dozen women from the crowd onstage and invited them to shake their hips. Everyone obliged.
There was no setlist; songs grew spontaneously out of what the group was feeling. Each note was kinetic. They band may not know their destination, but they made sure everyone had fun getting there.
A tribute to Bo Diddley gradually grew out of a groove based on –- what else? -– the Bo Diddley beat. With Randolph playing one of Diddley’s trademark square guitars, the band launched into a thunderous version of the song “Bo Diddley” that worked its way into “Who Do You Love?” Randolph was so enamored with the square axe he played it for the rest of the main set.
A surprisingly subdued journey through the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water” played up the “funky Dixieland” aspect and kept the audience involved.
Randolph has torn apart the pedal steel stereotype of making only lonesome country twang. His playing is equal parts Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stevie Wonder and his music is so infectious one could forgive audience for missing the message peppered throughout songs like “Deliver Me.” In that one Randolph sang “Should I get on my knees and pray?/I know I, I just can’t make it through another day/I got to, I got to, I got to get away/Deliver me.”
The free show was a thank you to Bud Light employees and boosters. While the Voodoo Lounge was only two-thirds full, it didn’t feel empty. The extra elbow room allowed plenty of space for dancing and the crowd used every inch.
The band left after 75 minutes, but the music didn’t stop. An offstage bass solo slowly built into a jam that found the band back in front of the crowd. The closing song of the night sounded like Led Zeppelin and echoed a thought likely ringing through most minds: “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That.”