reCAP :: The Word w/ Kung Fu :: 2014.05.01
Magic Happens! That’s the only way to explain the feeling one gets listening to musicians of exceptional talent perform live. That was what was felt when The Word, John Medeski (organ), Robert Randolph (pedal steel guitar), brothers Cody (drums) and Luther Dickinson (guitars) and Chris Chew (bass) first toured in the early 2000s, the first time anyone had heard Randolph play outside of churches. And that was exactly what was felt as the band took the stage last evening at The Capitol Theater, a rescheduled gig from 2/12 and the last stop of this tour for the band that only gets together once every few years. Magic! There is just something so raw and moving hearing and seeing music this inspiring played so well.
The band arrived on stage and with a wave of his hand Randolph led the quintet into some enthused warm up improvising. “Blood On That Rock” moved seamlessly into “Without God” – the song that first turned Chew and Luther onto Randolph through their shared affinity of gospel music and the sacred steel guitar traditions. Medeski’s organs swelled and swirled, but it was Chew’s bass lines that held the music together. Without being overtly loud, the booming thump was an anchor here and throughout most of the night.
Randolph was his usual self – that is to say, jovial and inspiring; leaning his instrument forward and back, he coaxed wailing notes of praise and soul. Bobbing, twisting his head back and fourth and around the stage, he led the band through one gospel number after another without a set list, and the 4 members picked up on his cues automatically. “Squeeze” was the lone cover of the night – a Robert Randolph & The Family Band cover from the band’s 2003 major label debut recording, and the audience picked up on it, raising a huge cheer.
Up and down, at times it seems he leaped right out of his seat, sometimes standing as he played. Sleight of Hand is a fair assessment of Randolph’s technique on his instrument – his fingers deftly sliding up and down the frets, with or without a slide, dancing with Medeski’s swirling organ fills and backed by a steady thumping rhythm. Up until he was discovered in his early 20s, Randolph hadn’t heard or played any kind of secular music. Now, nearly fifteen years into his career as a bandleader, influences have crept into his playing. Teases of Hendrix, Zeppelin and Clapton could be heard here and there throughout the performance.
“Joyful Sounds” was definitely a theme of the night, played early on and then making its reprisal later as the band was closing out the evening. But the encore was truly inspirational and moving – even if you weren’t particularly religious. “At The Cross” and “I’ll Fly Away” brought huge cheers of jubilation from the crowd as the night came to a close.
Connecticut’s own Kung Fu – just back from a month long trek that brought them down the eastern seaboard all the way to New Orleans for a gig at Jazz Fest – opened the show on this evening. “Belatone” was a swanky jazz groove that opened the night with swing. And “Bopcorn” was a jumping and bumping funk number that got the early arrivals moving and swaying early in the night. “Scrab” brought a fusion of funk and rock, with Somerville leading with scatted style lead vocals and his horn also playing a lead vocal role. Drummer Adrian Tramontano took some space here for a fierce solo that brought a roar from the crowd. And on “Tsar Bomba” the title track of the bands sophomore studio recording, the sultry saxophone of Rob Somerville intertwined with groovy keys from Todd Stoops.
With several years of touring and two studio recordings as Kung Fu, it’s no longer the case that the band is a side project or a supergroup one off. And with a summer full of festival dates on the horizon, it’s clear that this quintet will be bringing its fusion and progressive rock to a horde of new fans across the county.