Review: ‘The Word’

The sacred and the profane have long struggled for supremacy in the blues and its many offshoots. The most fascinating artists have been able to reconcile the two -- letting the right shoulder's angel hold sway while paying occasional heed to the pitchfork-toting figure on the left.

The sacred and the profane have long struggled for supremacy in the blues and its many offshoots. The most fascinating artists have been able to reconcile the two — letting the right shoulder’s angel hold sway while paying occasional heed to the pitchfork-toting figure on the left.

That’s the dichotomy at play in the Word, an oddly-configured, but altogether compelling aggregation that throws together the three members of frenzied blues-rockers North Mississippi All-Stars, organ-jazz titan John Medeski and de facto leader Robert Randolph — a 23-year-old pedal steel prodigy with deep roots in the House of God church.

Over the course of a rambling, two-and-a-half-hour perf that added a few degrees to what was already the hottest day Gotham had seen in two years, the quintet dipped deep into the gospel repertoire, the all-instrumental makeup leaving no doubt as to the message being relayed. Early on, Medeski dominated, his thick, meaty organ riffs sprawling across the measures of “Call Him by His Name” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.”

Seated at center stage, Randolph, who first came to the attention of his secular bandmates through his appearance on the “Sacred Steel” compilation, looked impassive enough, head bowed and face fixed in intense concentration. But the sounds he pulled from his pedal steel were nothing short of exhilarating, particularly on long, wending versions of “Without God” and “At the Cross.”

Randolph’s fire was echoed here and there by Luther Dickinson, who has grown far more assertive and adventurous in his own soloing — as evidenced by his contributions to a fierce version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” The set could have used a few more shots of that overproof wildness, though

With the majority of the drawn-out jams, clocking in at upward of 10 minutes apiece — lapsing into a similar mid-tempo boogie groove, the set often bordered on the lethargic, the musicians milling around, rather than pressing forward. Most vexing on “Blood on that Rock” and a plodding rendition of “I Shall Not be Re-Moved,” the placidity still seemed more back-porch mellow than ennui-ridden.

Still, music that demands a soulful response requires its makers to work for that response. By set’s end, Randolph and company got to that point — particularly on a rhythmically complex traipse through “The March” and a smoldering take on Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” As the crowd melted into the night, it was clear that the call had gotten the intended response.

The Word

Irving Plaza; 900 capacity; $25 top

Production

Presented by SFX. Opened and reviewed August 7, 2001. Closed August 8, 2001.

Cast

Band: Robert Randolph, John Medeski, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Chris Chew.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Marketplace

    Leave a Reply

    No Comments

    Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    More Music News from Variety

    Loading