Pitched somewhere between a jam-band burlesque show and a feverish Pentecostal church service, Robert Randolph & the Family Band's concert at the 9:30 club on Friday night put a flamboyantly secular spin on Sacred Steel guitar music.
The 24-year-old Randolph, who plays a customized 13-string pedal steel guitar, favors a renegade form of the spiritual music heard in House of God churches around the country. Like his role models, he uses a pedal steel guitar to conjure the sound of a choir full of octave-leaping voices, singing, pleading and jubilant by turns.
Yet the moment Randolph strode onstage, wearing a black derby and a basketball jersey, it was clear that he's no stickler for church traditions. He sang and chanted and danced, and occasionally tutored the crowd on the finer points of his footwork. As it turned out, though, plenty of young women in the packed house were only too happy to show Randolph a few moves of their own. No less than a dozen of them jumped onstage during the quartet's reprise of Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips," forming a bump-and-grind chorus line that stretched from wing to wing.
While spiritual themes and holiday favorites punctuated the two-hour show, along with a few original tunes, Randolph often seemed inspired less by the Holy Ghost than the ghosts of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, especially when he cranked up the wah-wah tones during "Voodoo Chile." And like their jam-band brethren, Randolph and his band mates -- organist John Ginty and cousins Marcus Randolph (on drums) and Danyell Morgan (on bass guitar and tenor vocals) -- eventually cut a wide swath across the pop landscape, exuberantly saluting Sly Stone and the Temptations along the way.
-- Mike Joyce