BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Talking with many in the crowd at the Fillmore in San Francisco Friday night, many had never seen Robert Randolph before and were about to experience him in concert for the first time. Nearly two hours later, Randolph and company had made an indelible impression while converting those previously uninitiated by delivering a performance they would not soon forget.
As the pedal steel guitarist and front man of the Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Randolph, 39, leads a funk, soul, Southern blues and gospel jam band whose sound has been influenced by the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Allman Brothers, among others. Touring in support of the recently released “Got Soul,” their rollicking fifth studio album, RRFB continues to remain a mystery to some, in spite of collaborating and touring with the likes of Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton and The Blind Boys of Alabama.
Taking the stage at 11 PM sharply dressed in a black vest and striped purple bow tie joined by a tightly knit backing band including guitarist Bret Haas, brother Marcus on drums and younger sister Lenesha on backing vocals, Randolph is an immensely talented artist who received his musical baptism almost exclusively through performing in church, nearly completely unaware of the existence of non-religious music. Seated center stage on a bench beside his custom made slide guitar, Randolph and company wasted no time, quickly whipping the already highly engaged crowd into a jovial frenzy.
While reminders of The Allman Brothers sound were recurring throughout the evening, there were plenty nirvana inducing moments provided by RRFB’s passionate delivery of a genre blending set. While performing large swaths of their newest material, including ZZ Top‘s “I Thank You” and a stellar extended version of “She Got Soul,” the band also elevated the crowd to another level with their rendition of the classic Sly and the Family Stone jam, “Thank You” (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). This was definitely not your average gospel-tinged funk and blues band with elements of acid rock and classical keyboards included in their revival.