Live Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band + Robert Randolph and the Family Band

The Palace, Melbourne – 22 April 2011

So we plan to run a pretty tight ship here at Upstream Whispers, covering quite a specific range of local and visiting music. However, an unusual opportunity came up last week, and far be it from us to argue with destiny. Particularly when the pedal steel is involved.

So it was that we found ourselves heading off to see the Bluesfest sideshow featuring Tedeschi Trucks Band and Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Palace Theatre on Good Friday.

Randolph is arguably one of the best known pedal steel players around today, and his unusual use of the instrument in funk and soul music is a sight to behold. During a very energetic and engaging set, Randolph and his “family band” (including his very talented cousin Danyel Morgan on five-string bass and vocals, Carlton on drums, Elena on vocals and “Noodles” on keys, guitar and vocals) won over the crowd with impressive four-part harmonies, funky bass, some powerhouse drumming and crazy wah-laden pedal steel.

Along with live party numbers like “The March” and “Shake Your Hips”, Randolph and the Family Band delivered funky-as-all-get-out versions of several tunes from last year’s We Walk This Road, including “Back to the WalRobert Randolph and The Family Bandl”, “Dry Bones” and “Don’t Change”.  Despite his best efforts, including occasionally leaving the pedal steel to run around the stage, it took Randolph a while to get the crowd going, although inviting about fifteen “ladies” to dance on-stage seemed to help.  An instrumental cover of “Thriller” led into “I Don’t Know What You Came To Do” (with Randolph, Morgan and Carlton swapping instruments) and as the Family Band left the stage one-by-one, Randolph closed the set with a funky solo version of “Voodoo Child”.

After a bit of a wait – owing mainly to the substantial stage setup – the Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage. Featuring two drummers, keys, bass, and two backing vocalists, Susan Tedeschi on electric guitar and vocals and Derek Trucks on electric guitar and slide, the new vehicle for the husband and wife duo know how to impress.

Their tight, bluesy set focused on new tunes from the band’s upcoming debut, Revelator, including “Bound for Glory” and Midnight in Harlem”, the latter penned by backing vocalist (and Derek Trucks Band lead vocalist) Mike Mattison. Tedeschi’s neat guitar playing and powerful vocals (reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt) were complemented by Trucks’ virtuosic slide guitar, and the double-drumming added some serious groove without getting in the way. Added to this were some great solos from brothers Oteil and Kofi Burbidge (on bass and keys/flute respectively). Tedeschi’s charisma balanced Trucks’ unassuming presence to make it a real crowd-pleaser, and one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a while.

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Live Review: The Stetson Family at Retreat Hotel, Brunswick (9 April 2011)

Every time I’m in the front bar at the Retreat, the wood paneled walls, rowdy crowd and 70s light fittings make me feel like I’m in a bar in Fargo, North Dakota. So much so that I’m always disappointed when I get outside and discover that it’s not snowing.

Showing up to chase away our rainy autumn blues tonight are local knockabouts The Stetson Family.  As frontwoman Nad Budge is always quick to point out, The Stetson Family aren’t actually related, although the light-hearted ribbing going on onstage – mainly directed at mandolin player Andy Carswell – suggests otherwise.

I like to think of these folks as modern bluegrass. Their harmonies are tight, and the banjo (ably wielded by Colin Swan), mandolin and acoustic guitar trade effortless solos. Luke Richardson’s energetic upright bass and sky-high harmonies are a treat, and Budge’s sweet dobro playing lends a mournful tone to the down-tempo numbers.

In between rousing renditions of favourites like “Hey Sister Mary, Where’d You Get That Gun?” and new tune “Fool’s Gold”, Budge and co-frontperson (is that a word?)  John Bartholomeusz reported that the group’s first full-length album is nearing completion.

Budge spotted several fellow musos in the room, and cheekily invited everyone who has an album coming out this year to raise their hands. More than a few arms shot up, confirming that it is indeed an exciting year ahead in Melbourne town.

We loved it, the punters loved it, and we can’t wait for The Stetsons’ new album!