When Robert Randolph and the Family Band took the stage, I was wondering if had been some form of miscommunication. I thought to myself, "Where is everyone?"
I was expecting than the 200-some people who enthusiastically cheered as Randolph began his set with unaccompanied blues soloing. When he and I spoke on the phone, Randolph said the Toronto audience could expect "almost being at a Sly and the Family Stone show or a Jimi Hendrix show."
This proved to be true as the set included the classic Hendrix tune "Foxy Lady", and the band reminded me of the 1970 Hendrix album and group, Band of Gypsys.
The band certainly had the freedom of the 1960's and 1970's. Not only did the band members switch instruments numerous times, but at one point Randolph invited anybody in the audience capable of playing guitar on stage to jam! While I contemplated putting up my hand, 17 year old Andrew Prince was already on stage. His soloing impressed both the band and the audience, and it was endearing to see Prince shake his head in disbelief as he was playing along.
The set ended with the R&B classic "Bo Diddley" and an original composition titled "Brand New Wayo" on the band's new album Lickety Split.
When Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage, the audience was fired up. Shepherd began his set much like Randolph's, with unaccompanied blues soloing. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that Chris Layton, of Stevie Ray Vaughan fame, was playing drums! The band sounded like a classic blues band, thanks not only to Layton but to bassist Tony Franklin and Riley Osbourn on keys. Osbourn chooses to play through a Leslie speaker, an extremely expensive and delicate amplifier with rotating speakers. The Leslie speaker was used prominently among R&B keyboardists in the 1960's, but modern keyboardists now tend to gravitate towards amplifiers that are compact and digital.
The set featured some of the band's original songs, with lead singer Noah Hunt singing "How I Go" and "Everything is Broken". When it came time to do blues covers, Kenny Wayne was all over it. I prefer Shepherd's singing.
Shepherd sang the Stevie Ray Vaughan classic "The House is Rockin'" and "I Can't Hold Out" by Elmore James. Like Randolph, Shepherd's band performed a Bo Diddley song, as Hunt sang "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover".
Shepherd ended his set with a series of B.B. King covers. The audience cheered as Shepherd emulated King's tone and melodies on songs such as "Sweet Little Angel" and "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" from the landmark album Live At the Regal.
For an encore, the band performed "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix. Shepherd performed a solo with the guitar behind his head while the audience rose to their feet with enthusiasm. While Shepherd and Randolph may not have the same sized audiences as Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, the spirit of the music is alive in well in the hands and voices of these two young men.