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The Music Builds Tour, a collaboration between LiveNation, Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity, and the bands (Jars of Clay, Robert Randolph & Co., Switchfoot and Third Day) came to Nissan Pavilion on Sunday, raising cash for local Habitat chapters and bringing some of that New-Time religion to Bristow.

Most went to see Switchfoot and Third Day; I went for Robert Randolph, with whom I’ve been relatively obsessed since Live at the Wetlands. To say that the gospel-steel messiah stuck out from the Christian rock acts that bookended him would be…something of an understatement. Picture Buddy Guy opening for the Monkees.

Randolph led the Family Band through a maddeningly short but immensely satisfying set that comprised key tracks from Undeclared and Wetlands and, surprisingly, none from Colorblind, the group’s latest LP. The highlight? “The March” (including a heavenly digression into “When the Saints Go Marching In”) and “I Don’t Know What You Come to Do,” which featured the band’s signature swapping of instruments. Randolph can play the bass and the six-string with a fever approaching his 13-string pedal steel pyrotechnics, but his drumming is lights-out.

When the Family Band tosses instruments back and forth, it’s no gimmicky display of virtuosity; it bespeaks a musical generosity rare among bands and doubly so among virtuosos. Their exuberance inheres in the collective, their faith not in lyrical heaviness but in the ascendent jam. And on Sunday, this approach rendered irrelevant all earthly gripes one had with the concert—the PA complications marring the bass intro to “I Need More Love,” the glaring discrepancy between Randolph and the other bands, the observation that, in typical TicketMaster style, the “benefit” tour raises only $1 per ticket for Habitat.

For Randolph, the music is the family; the family is the message. And in following their bliss, the band delivers yours as well. The sun is setting behind the pavilion; the man in the “Property of Jesus” shirt is dancing with his eyes closed; Jars of Clay are mercifully nowhere to be found; and the top of this hill is the center of the world.

We’re still waiting on a studio album that captures the sublimity of Randolph live, and we may never get it. (The clips below, I assure you, are far from a worthy substitute.) While we’re waiting, let’s hope for more collaborations like The Word, and give thanks that, for one Jersey guitarist, speed and noise are utterly compatible with grace.

“I Need More Love”:

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“The March”:

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“Ain’t Nothin Wrong with That”:

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“Jesus Is Just Alright,” featuring Eric Clapton:

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Sunday’s setlist:

  • “Good Times (3 Stroke)”
  • “I Need More Love”
  • Jam with the sister
  • “The March”
  • “I Don’t Know What You Come to Do”

…and a vid of the band covering “Billie Jean”:

[youtube:http:\\www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK561tuWA90]

Photo courtesy of Nrbelex