With an even mix of covers, instrumentals, and tracks off his new album, Got Soul, in just a little over an hour, Robert Randolph made Anthology his house of worship. When you’re on stage with Randolph you’re a part of his family, whether you share blood relation or not. Other than his actual cousin Marcus sitting behind the drums, the names and faces have changed over the years. But their mission has stayed the same. Robert Randolph and the Family Band conduct a non-denominational service espousing love, hope and energy via a program of invigorating and uplifting funk and soul filtered through the unique style of pedal steel guitar originating in the Sacred Steel church. On a cool and damp April 20, the traveling ministry arrived in Rochester.
The service began, as they often do, with the organist filling the air with thick swirls, preparing the crowd for prayer. Things took an unexpectedly dark turn with a quick cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” But in that quick two-minute flourish the darkness would stay for the remainder of the night. It quickly moved into another cover, this one of ZZ Tops “I Thank You,” which is featured on Got Soul.
From there Randolph kicked into the first of three stunning instrumentals he would intersperse throughout the evening. Each had it’s own character, but followed the tried and true Sacred Steel format, begging the question: Can you be summoned to scream Hallelujah and Amen without a prayer being uttered? Randolph proved the answer to be a resounding ‘Yes,’ as he stretched and twisted notes, sculpting the structure of sound, building it slowly to ecstatic peaks. Randolph may have adopted a slick and polished exterior in his studio output, but from the inside looking out, he’s still the same old impassioned and energetic force of musical enlightenment.
And the new songs came off well from the stage as well, with the band rolling through uplifting takes on “Find a Way,” “Love What You Do,” “Shake It,” and “I Want It.” On “Love Do What It Do” Robert egged on his sister Lenesha to freestyle about their childhood trips up to Rochester to see the Campbell Brothers at their church on Goodman Street.
The encore began with Randolph on stage alone, eliciting some gorgeous Hawaiian pedal steel sounds on the instrumental “Heaven’s Calling” before the rest of the band filed on for one big final thank you and their version of the Sly and the Family Stone classic “Thank You Falettin’ Me Be Mice Elf Agin.” The band filed off again mid-jam, leaving just the original Family Band members, Marcus and Robert, to close out the evening with a breakdown jam that drifted off into midnight.
Rochester’s own soul superhero, Danielle Ponder, got the evening off to a hot start. Public defender by day, soul-belting goddess by night, her and her band the Tomorrow People mesmerized the early crowd with powerful heartfelt grooves, highlighted by a sexy and sultry cover of “Crazy.” Luke Wade and his young trio, playing together for the first time, played a set chock full of original love songs, with “Morning View” and “On Fire” being the stand outs.
Setlist: War Pigs > I Thank You, Instrumental, Find a Way, Instrumental, Shake It, Superstition, Instrumental, Love Do What it Do, I Want It E: Heaven’s Calling > Thank You Falettin’ Me Be Mice Elf Agin