OK, that’s a cheesy cliché. But it’s true. Some nitwit pulled the fire alarm halfway through Randolph’s first encore. The ever-grinning and head-bobbing Randolph played along, even seemingly tweaking his rhythm to merge with the wah-wahing alarm and flashing lights.
So the show ended a tad early, but Ogdenites left undeniably sated after a solid two hours of frenzied and ferocious pedal steel.
Long known for the strange wailing behind whining cowboys or twirling hula dancers, the pedal steel takes on new meaning under the deft fingers of Randolph. And he wasn’t alone. Flanked by Calvin Cook and Aubrey Ghent on pedal steels, the night scorched everything you ever knew about pedal steel. Randolph got his start at age nine playing pedal in New Jersey’s House of God Church, where pedal guitars are revered as “the sacred steel.”
Most of the band comes from a church-rich background. Danyel Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on a massive five-tom drum kit are Randolph’s cousins and the whole family has years of experience behind an altar.
Monday’s show at the Ogden was a benefit-slash-celebration for Head Count, the jammy version of Rock The Vote, which boasts a super-efficient voter registration strategy. The non-partisan group, based in New York, is throwing a similar gig with Spearhead for the GOP confab in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“We wanted this to be a real rock-n-roll party. A way for people to feel the connection between music and action and participation,” said Head Count’s head honcho Andy Bernstein.
And rockin’ it was. Tweaking a suitcase of pedal effects while hammering his custom-made Fessenden, Randolph choreographed the ultimate steel showdown. There were sax-ish sounds and reggae riffs, soul-lilted grooves and outright gritty funk. “Deliver Me” off Randolph’s 2006 “Colorblind,” echoed with the sultry sounds of Sly and the Family Stone.
His “I Need More Love” pushed his cuz Morgan to his limits with a hyper-speed hammering bass line and a high-pitched scream on vocals. Randolph, his head wrapped in a sheer black bandanna, rocked his head violently with each beat, pulling all kinds of dance moves out of the amply lubricated and VIP-pass-wearing crowd.
Jason Crosby on the Hammond B added an Allmans-esque rootsy blues flavor, providing a rich background for the twangy pedals up front. Randolph’s “Hey Bo Diddley” was a sweet tribute to the man who forged that raucous guitar sound that defines today’s best soul-blues players.
Really it is Randolph’s chamelonic range that defines him and earned him a ranking in Rolling Stone magazine’s recent tally of the Top 100 guitarists. He can do Stevie Ray. Clapton. Jimi. B.B. Duane. He can deliver the deep jam, the poppy bits, the grimy roots, the soul, the blues. He’s got the biggest bag o’ tricks in the biz right now. And his spirit is what keeps the crowd shaking.
Ever smiling, his “Shake Your Hips” included all the ladies in the house on stage shaking and frolicking (see the video of that one here). His “Good Time” launched the house into a beer-spilling boogie. And his earth-shaking and Dixieland-hued rendition of “When The Saints Come Marching In” was as rich as anything born in the bayou. When the fire alarm started shaking the house, Randolph was just about to slip into “Voodoo Chile.” Come to think of it, maybe the promise of that scorcher was what lured the tank-toting firemen into the house.
Reverb contributor Jason Blevins is a reporter for The Denver Post.