New York, NY
December 27, 2007
When The Word announced they would be playing a short tour of the east coast for the last few days of 2007 they probably anticipated that the news would be welcomed with enthusiasm. Fans of this gospel/rock side project have been waiting several years for the very busy members to make some room on their crowded calendars for a tour; members Chris Chew, Cody and Luther Dickinson, Robert Randolph and John Medeski are well known to audiences around the world with their own full time touring acts.
The second night of the four-show run revealed obvious signs of content amongst the members from the very first note. Any jitters that could have been presented from a band that hadn’t performed together much in a few years clearly had been shrugged off before the evening started, and the show was executed with ease, demonstrating a kind of familiarity and bonding that can only be seen and heard when true musicianship is involved.
The nearly all instrumental set list included a fresh blend of recorded Word material ("Joyful Sounds," "Call Him By His Name," "Without God," "I’ll Fly Away") and quick-witted improvisational cover jams like The Ohio Players’ "Love Roller Coaster" and The White Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army." Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder rifs were also dabbled with. One big beautiful exception was made for Chew’s vocal’s on a jubilant version of "Down by the Riverside."
While Randolph was poised to lead, seated at the front of the stage with his pedal steel, the band was clearly driving the music any direction the vibe led them to. Showmanship was a group effort with no one player able (or willing ?) to completely upstage the next. This reunion didn’t even remotely look like work. John Medeski brought bonus bottom weight to stir up the governing strings and was genuinely engaged in everyone’s melodious contributions. Guitarist Luther Dickinson openly enjoyed the reunion with the younger pedal steel maestro, indulging his axe-to-axe challenge when Randolph picked up his sparkly red Stratocaster. Robert didn’t hold back his desire to be versatile and offered up his skills on the drums, giving Cody Dickinson the chance to bring out his electric washboard.
The three-hour performance of this evening worked on many levels; it was hard to not get caught up in the contagiousness of the sheer elation moving in the room. The 2000+ audience members were all well aware and appreciative of the uniqueness of the gathering.
The members of The Word would most certainly have a promising and prosperous touring career as a group, if they only had time to make it happen. Brief and unexpected tours are fun for some, but if it’s truly all that they will ever have to offer their overall fan base, it’s a major discredit to the entertainment value they have going on.