09 February 2007

Nedstalgia: Freaks Ball II

(old school images of Robert in the day from D'Owen, don't know if any exist from that night)

I'm going to try and do a new nostalgia post at least once a month, heavily targeting those nice big round year anniversaries like 10 and 15, but occasionally throw in something random when nothing else fits the bill or even something a little more recent... like this month's for example. Where I can, I'll try to incorporate some music from said show.

Download the entire Freaks Ball II set: part 1, part 2, part 3

So, it was exactly 5 years ago tonight -- well, actually most of it was the next morning, but whatever -- that we had one of the best Freaks throwdowns of all time. Back then, Robert Randolph was just starting to get his due beyond New York City, but still remembered where he came from and was happy to be a part of the second Freaks Ball. I was still feeling my way around putting a show together and I was pretty much on my own for the first time trying to get the pieces to fit. On top of that, our daughter had been born right when the details were falling into place. It was no wonder that the whole thing had the momentum of a monumental train wreck.

The initial idea was to do the show at Galapagos in Williamsburg, with the Freaks bar band Butter doing an opening set and the Family Band playing well into the wee hours. As things came together, though, I realized that the space was much too small and too many people would have to be turned away. Luckily, I was able to contact and work out a deal with Northsix (literally next door to Galapagos) such that we could have the club after their regularly scheduled gig that night. Butter would play an early set at Galapagos and then the party would move next door for the main event. Sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but look who was putting the thing together.

Butter totally rocked the early portion of the evening, but it did nothing to prepare the Freaks for the epicness of what would take place next door. When I moved over to Northsix to oversee the transition, I was a bit worried. The show there had been some kind of hardcore rager and there was broken glass like everywhere being swept up as quickly as possible. The stage was inches deep in beer bottles and booze and who knows what else. Somehow, everything got cleaned up without too much more than the usual rock and roll delays and the crowd shuffled in for a Mardi Gras hullabaloo.

By this time most of us had seen Robert multiple times, he was kind of our musical mascot in the post-Wetlands world. It was more than just shout outs from the stage -- he was our friend. He was ours. As such, we thought we knew what we were in for, what kind of typical Family Band show we were about to partake. We had no idea. The equipment was set-up, with the big glaring change being two drum sets on either side of the stage... and without sound check, Robert launched into something none of us had ever heard, quickly dropping in a sly "NYC Freaks" tease as a way of saying "howdy," "let's get this party started" and "you ain't seen nothin' yet" all at once.

(check out the opening Fillmore Shuffle from this show here)

All the normal rules of a Robert Randolph show quickly dissipated as the band stretched things out to unusually SICK territory. Randolph always knew how to stretch things out, but this was different, it wasn't the length or the energy of the jamming so much as the out-and-out creativity of it all. Songs twisted up on one another, segueing back and forth, bits and pieces of tunes popping up in strange places, like some postmodernist take on what a Robert Randolph and the Family Band show was supposed to sound like. A whole slew of the tunes were brand new -- I'm pretty sure this was the first time played for many of the songs that would eventually make it onto his major label debut, Unclassified, and they all came with a slick new purpose that signaled that this guy would not be playing the Freaks Ball for much longer.

(grab the brand new at the time, Squeeze, here)

It was a crazy energy in that room that night, one that I've constantly been chasing ever since. It was as close to a truly private party as we've ever had in the 7 Freaks Balls -- nearly everyone knew everyone else and didn't mind getting dirty, sweaty and everything else with each other. The strange way it worked out with the clubs actually played into this perfectly, pushing the set deeper into the evening and giving a weird dose of covertness and openendedness that both the band and the Freaks took advantage of. Guest vocalists (check out Paulie Ethnic throwing down on the Three Little Birds theme), crazy teases and wild, wild playing. The kind of evening that was built on hyperbole. The band did not want to end and chugged along hours into the evening with as much thrust as they had started with. When they finally paused to chase down some water (it was hot as hell in there on all fronts), it was well into the next morning and the crowd was fighting exhaustion to cheer for an encore... we thought they were done, how could they have anything left in the tank? Northsix let them came back to play one last song, although who knows how long they would have chugged along for had they the chance to keep going.

If you ask most anyone who was around during the Lakeside/Mercury residency period of Robert's ascendancy to whoredom who was also at that second Freaks Ball, they will almost all, to a freak, tell you that that was the pinnacle of Robert's career. It was the best he had been and it would never be that new, exciting or full of potential. A lot of that had to do with that second drummer, Dan Fadel, who controlled the pace like Marcus Randolph never could and never would be able to. At the midpoint of the marathon evening, we collectively knew that either he joined the band permanently or it'd never be this good again. The rest is history.

Download the entire Freaks Ball II set: part 1, part 2, part 3


Anonymous said...

You hit it run on the head, Aaron. I managed the band for the first 6 years and i remember that night in the Top 3 best of the 400 shows I did with the band. I remember us driving out there in the van that night and Marcus and Danyel saying "yo G, where the hell we going?". Then we stopped for pizza to sedate them. Dan was an old friend of mine and was playing with our friends Hazy Malaze so we just decided to bring him along and the double drums were sick. That was the first night they played "Squeeze" (which Danny Owen had titled Rock N Roll at that point) and it was incredible. Really, now that I think about it, that night was a musical peak that the band never really hit again, probably because they knew they were playing for friends and you could feel the love in the room like it never was again. Sure, there were lots more great nights, but never again with the kind of magic of that night. And when we were leaving at 5am Marcus got the call that his wife had gone into labor and about 10 hours later Marcus Jr. arrived... I really wish we could go back in time to that night and some of those other great nights from 2001-2, when nothing mattered to Robert but tearing the roof off those clubs...


Danny Owen said...

Nice post Aaron. Those are some MIA pictures you have there. I have been looking for that first one from Lakeside for sometime. I do remember RRFB breaking out the Fillmore Shuffle that you have posted... RR and the Word had played this song I think previosuly to this show. They played it bunch on the 2nd full Word tour which I was on. RR definitely named it. I don't think he plays anything like this these days but I could be wrong. As most Freaks Balls are, it was a special night. The whole thing is definitely one of those 'remember when' moments and overall, the music that they brought that night was some of the best you could ever ask for from anyone. Ever.

makeithappen77 said...

You definitely nailed it, Doc! I can remember playing some dive bar in Columbia, MO a month or so later with Shannon McNally (who Dan Fadel played drums with at the time) and putting the FBII discs in after soundcheck on the (shoddy) PA. All of us couldn't help but dancing. Those were the days, bro.