Family Band good enough to take over Book & Stage

The Cosmopolitan earned its baptism by steel guitar last week, gospel-rock-soul-funk-jam group Robert Randolph and the Family Band, presiding.

The Book & Stage has a bar that separates the audience from the performers. There’s a clear disconnect most of the time, with patrons talking with their friends instead of paying attention to the music. Even though shows at B&S are free, this is always the main complaint. By the end of the four-night stand, however, Randolph proved certain performers can transcend this boundary.

I first saw them in a sweaty club in Boston when I was in college years ago. None of us knew what we were in for, but two hours and 45 minutes later, we left as believers.

Randolph is everything the media claims he is: A pedal steel guitar virtuoso with boundless energy and an infectious passion for his music. With all the attention paid to the lead, people often overlook just how good his backing band is. Just that they are able to keep up with him is an accomplishment, but they are a tight-knit unit (featuring his cousin and sister among others) in their own right.

I went three out of four nights. On Thursday, they played for more than an hour, which while fine, is not want his fans want. They expect long nights filled with dancing and crazy solos.

By Saturday, the hyped audience got what they want and on Sunday, the Family Band held it down for more than two hours. Not bad for a free show.

Randolph changed up the set list every night, playing almost all different songs (save for one or two) on each occasion. On “Shake Your Hips,” he brought about 10 women from the crowd on stage, dancing to the grooves. “If I Had My Way” was almost a church revival. “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do” was a foot-stomping romp.

As if built for Vegas, Randolph is a master of the cover song, taking well-known jams and keeping their integrity, but making each his own. Among the favorites this time around: A soulful rendition of Prince’s “Walk Don’t Walk” and a version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that had a sick guitar solo/reprise. I dare anyone to find a cover of either of these tunes that match up to the Family Band’s.

With a packed house each night, (on Saturday and Sunday people spilled past the walkway onto the casino floor), and a buzz that took over, The Cosmopolitan would be smart to sign Robert Randolph and the Family Band to a residency. They would be the best lounge act this city has seen in years. And knowing Randolph, he’d be down to play at any and all hours.

Jason Harris is a local stand-up comedian.