Review & Photos | Chris Robinson Brotherhood | Tarrytown
Images by: Joe Russo
Read Chad’s review below Joe’s gallery.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is a wily thing, and so, so heavy with “vibe”- it asks you to adjust your tempo to its own, to embrace the deliberate pace of its sets and to enjoy the warts, frayed edges and quirks. If you can’t do that, well, friend, you can be on your way. But if you can acquire their taste and go along for these unhurried little adventures, there are rewards and more rewards. They’re not going to chase you, but if they can get to you, they’ll hook you.
I’ve seen the Chris Robinson Brotherhood a number of times since its 2011 formation, and in all manner of formats: from tiny club gigs to festival sets to opening slots to a “nope, we’re still not going to rush” show on Valentine’s Day in snow-smothered Boston. This two-setter in Tarrytown, however, was a full expression – everything the band does well and a more effective sense of pacing between its pie-eyed improvisational segments and its more straight-ahead rock, blues and country expressions. And they’re that much more a band now than what might have once been a passion project. It was possible to forget – right up until Chris started blowing crisp harp to will Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” toward a stomping conclusion – that the CRB’s leader had ever been the ferocious front man of The Black Crowes, selling out venues 10 times this size.
Which is not to say the CRB is gentle. Similar to The Band – to my ears, more their spirit animal than the much-more-often-referenced Grateful Dead – the CRB can kick up a good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll racket, but are even stronger when they’re finding the soul in the wistful, the nostalgic, the spiritual. You can see and hear the “Roane County Banjo” without knowing a thing about Roane County, you can feel the longing and regret in “Someday Past the Sunset” that its world-weary title exactly implies, you get caught up in the vignettes presented by “100 Days of Rain,” or the exhausted but determined narrator of “Roll Old Jeremiah,” much more effective in this context than it ever was as a Black Crowes song.
CRB gets drunk on its own “wow” a little too often -otherwise gorgeous songs like “Clear Blue Sky & the Good Doctor” and “Tulsa Yesterday” were centerpieces of their respective sets before taking too long to resolve, and even then, just sort of petering out in a druggy ambience. But if what in earlier, less practiced versions of the CRB might have felt like “sit through our groovy originals and we’ll throw you a bone with some popping covers,” it now feels like cover tunes are brought into CRB’s orbit, not CRB going out to meet them. A CRB show like this starts with Carl Perkins and ends with Bob Dylan and in between comes most of the things those two artists imply, all served by Chris and his cohorts with confidence and authority.
The band feels whole. Robinson is obviously its center – he can’t help it, guy with charisma like that, as much as he tries to blend in and just be one of the band members. Mark Dutton and Tony Leone clearly feel each other, taking chances as a rhythm section and bending CRB a bit more than was evident this past spring. And Adam MacDougall – what fun he is to watch and hear with all those tripped out psychedelic keyboard effects.
But it’s ever more Neal Casal who feels like the heart of the band -a guitar voice that feels like “just enough” even when he wants to play sizzling slide and grandstand a bit. In the meat of “Crash on the Levee,” which closed this show, Casal delivered a right-fit solo that was just one of several aggressive, but unostentatious offerings he used to flesh these songs out. A journeyman and much-respected player finally found the band that sounds like him.
Set One: Boppin’ the Blues, Roan County Banjo, Tornado, Someday Past the Sunset, About a Stranger, Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor, Roll Old Jeremiah > Can You Hear Me, Beggars Moon
Set Two: Love’s Made a Fool of You, Oak Apple Day, Jump the Turnstile, Meanwhile in the Gods…, Tulsa Yesterday, 100 Days of Rain, Shore Power, Got Love If You Want It
Encore: Goin’ to Acapulco, Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)
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