Concert Review: The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at the Somerville (MA) Theatre, 11/19/11

Eight Things You Should Know About The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

1) The brotherhood is metaphorical, not literal

There are no actual brothers in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The band is composed of Chris Robinson (vocals, guitar), Neal Casal (guitar, vocals), Adam MacDougall (keys, vocals), Mark ‘Muddy’ Dutton (bass, vocals) and George Sluppick (drums). The band started touring back in March of 2011 and has racked up an impressive hundred shows so far this year.

2) A lot of Black Crowes fans probably won’t like the CRB

The CRB (with the exception of Chris’s voice) sounds nothing like The Black Crowes. In many ways the CRB is the antithesis of the Crowes. The classic Crowes sound is loud, aggressive, rhythmically-driven, and tight. The CRB is mellow, spacey, melodically-driven and loose. The CRB is all about face-melting, not ass-kicking. In fact…

3) The CRB feels a lot like the JGB

While most people make the obvious Grateful Dead comparisons, the true reference point is probably the Jerry Garcia Band. When Jerry needed some spare cash, he’d grab John Kahn, Melvin Seals and whatever drummer was hanging around and they’d jam the shit out of Jerry originals and classic tunes from the rock and soul songbook. He was playing the songs he loved, they way he wanted to play them, and he hoped the fans would dig it. Same thing with the CRB.

4) The originals are amazing

The song rotation runs about 50 deep, with a nice mix of new originals, a handful of New Earth Mud/late period Crowes tunes and covers. The new songs are among the strongest that Chris has written in years. They possess strong melodies, nice transitions, ample room for jamming and lyrics that reflect a middle-aged perspective on life and love. “Star or Stone” could be a hit (if it was 1973), “Rosalee” is a great up-tempo jam, perfectly slotted as the first set closer. “Tulsa Yesterday” has a ‘Bird Song” vibe to it (which is a good thing). These are strong songs that have been road tested and I’d be excited about an album that contains: “Beware”, “If Your Wheel Don’t Roll”, “Rosalee”, “Reflections on a Broken Mirror”, “Star or Stone”, “Tulsa Yesterday”, “Tomorrow Blues”, “Vibration & Light Suite”, and “Star Crossed Lonely Sailor”.

5) The covers are for music geeks

The first soul musician I ever fell in love with was Otis Redding. Ironically, I never heard Otis do “Hard to Handle” when the Crowes broke through in 1990 with their famous cover version (I always thought it was a Dead tune). Now Chris is covering one of my all-time favorite Otis songs “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (which is really a Stax-era tune by OV Wright). I was thrilled to hear it in Somerville, and they did the King of Soul proud. The other covers on Saturday were “Crash on the Levee”, “Driving Wheel”, “Sugaree”, “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go”, and “It’s Late”. Chris is obviously obsessed with music and his cover choices show a depth of knowledge and a commitment to keeping the rock, country, soul and blues traditions alive. If you’re a music geek it’s a real treat to hear these tunes rescued from obscurity.

6) It’s all about the harmonies

The Achilles heel of every jam band is almost always the vocals, so it’s a real treat to hear a band that features not only an incredible lead singer but a great back-up singer in Neal Casal. Add in Muddy and Adam and you’ve got true four-part harmonies that take the songs to another level, like during the a capella section of “Ride”. I’d like to see them keep pushing the harmonies until they’re the frigging Beach Boys. And can someone please explain to me why they’re not doing “And We Bid You Goodnight”?

7) Neal & Adam are on fire

The unique thing about the CRB is that the sound is driven by having two lead instruments: Neal’s guitar and Adam’s keys.

I can’t say enough good things about Neal Casal (and I have previously when reviewing The Cardinals). I love his tone and his feel. I’m not a fan of guitar players who shred. I like guitar players who pick their spots, who build and release tension, and who take listeners on a journey with their solos, rather than trying to impress with their technical skills. Neal is a very emotional player and his tone is clean but not too thin. Best of all, he knows how to push the jam without ever losing the song.

Adam is a monster on the keys. Somehow a skinny little white dude lays down a fat groove that sounds like Merle Saunders. He’s got the jazz chops to jam, and the funk chops to groove. He kills it on tunes like “Vibration & Light Suite” but he also drops beautiful little solos on songs like “Driving Wheel”.

8) Actually, it’s all about the jams

The CRB is not a rock band. They don’t play any hits. Nearly every song contains a psychedelic spacey jam. The pace of tunes ranges from slow to mid-tempo. The show is nearly three hours. Every tune runs longer than 10 minutes. One of the songs has the word “suite” in the title. There’s no hidden agenda here – this is a jam band. So if you’re looking for a hard rock show, please look elsewhere. If you do come, please keep your phone in your pocket and save your chatter for the set break. Some of us are trying to connect with the universal consciousness.

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19 November 2011 @ Somerville Theatre, Somerville, MA

- Set One -
LET’S GO, LET’S GO, LET’S GO
TOMORROW BLUES
CRASH ON THE LEVEE
STAR OR STONE
TULSA YESTERDAY
VIBRATION & LIGHT SUITE
THAT’S HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS
ROSALEE

- Set Two -
40 DAYS
TRAIN ROBBERS
LITTLE LIZZIE MAE
APPALOOSA
RIDE
I AIN’T HIDING
DRIVING WHEEL
SUNDAY SOUND
- encore -
SUGAREE
IT’S LATE

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