What more can be said about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood? Or more specifically, what more can I say about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood? After all, I’ve already spilled a ton of virtual ink reviewing both of their 2012 albums (Big Moon Ritual & The Magic Door) and one of the shows I’ve attended (11/19/11).
And yet I feel compelled to write more about the CRB because they deserve the attention. Sure, they sold out the Paradise Rock Club, but this a band that should be selling out the Orpheum. I guess it’s time for us music nerds to accept that rock music has really become a niche genre, like jazz or classical, appreciated by a few but ignored by the masses.
Well, for those of you who still care about real music performed by genuine artists, here are some reasons why you need to check out the CRB:
The Singing: Having seen Chris Robinson many, many times over the last 20 years I have to say that he’s in great voice these days. Whatever he’s lost in range he’s gained in phrasing and confidence. His voice was incredible last night on every single tune. It’s most noticeable on the covers, with his “Do Right Woman” rivaling both Gram’s and Aretha’s versions and his “Tom Thumb’s Blues” elevating Dylan’s composition greatly. Of course, originals like “100 Days of Rain” and “Star or Stone” also highlight his instrument.
The harmonies, a secret weapon of this band (and underemphasized on the LPs), were spot on as usual. Neal Casal is one of the best in the business (playing the Chris Hillman role), occasionally doubling Chris’s lines for maximum impact. Muddy Dutton does a great job with the high harmonies. And when Adam MacDougall jumps in for the a capella breaks it’s just perfect. Singing is often a weakness for rock bands – particularly for jam bands – So it’s a real treat to hear a band that can consistently nail the vocals.
The Sound: I’m doubling down on my theory that the CRB are psychedelic rockabilly band (but not a psychobilly band – big difference!) Before there was rock music there was rockabilly. It was the earliest fusion of country and blues. It featured a driving rhythmic beat and a clean finger-picked electric lead guitar with slap-back echo. CRB still features the chug-a-chug-a beat courtesy of George Sluppick, but the psychedelic aspect is achieved by replacing the Scotty Moore-style guitar with a more Jerry Garcia-esque sound from Neal. Throw in Muddy dropping bombs on the bass all night long and Adam’s trippy work on the Moog and Hammond and you’ve got something that sounds new and classic at the same time. Non-album tracks like “Try Rock N Roll”, “Jump the Turnstile” and “Meanwhile in the Gods…” really bring that psychedelic rockabilly sound to life.
The Vibe: When I go to a show I don’t really care if the band talks to the audience or not. I’m there for music, not comedy or pandering to the locals (“Hello Cleveland!”), but I do think that a show is enhanced when it appears like the band is having a good time and wants to be there. Like Phil Lesh always says, there’s a connection between the band and the audience, a infinite loop where the positive energy is reflected from the band to the audience and back to the band. Last night you could tell they were having a great time. Watching how much Chris loved Adam’s long spacey solos, like during “Vibration & Light Suite” gave the feeling that there was no place he’d rather be, which made the audience feel the same way.
The Dead: Speaking of Phil, the Dead are still strong with this band. Aside from Neal’s Garcia-like tone, they somehow were able to transform “West L.A. Fadeaway” from a piss-break song into a monster (admit it, “West L.A.” was always a piss-break when the Dead played it). Also, there was a new arrangement of “Mother of Stone” that I’m absolutely convinced was built on top of the rhythm line from “The Other One”. Come to think of it, they should probably work “The Other One” into the rotation.
The Arrangements: Including “Mother of Stone” there were three New Earth Mud songs in the set (also “Sunday Sound” and “Silver Car”) and all featured different arrangements that perfectly fit the players in the CRB. It’s instructive to compare Mud versions to the CRB versions to get a sense of the evolution of Chris’s sound. Also getting a radically different arrangement was “Tornado”, perhaps the best Black Crowes b-side, which went from being a great country-folk acoustic number to a funked up reggae tune. (I’m not saying that it was better than the original version, but it worked quite well.) The CRB has a gift of taking songs – whether originals, covers, or old Chris tunes – and making them sound fresh and perfectly suited for their sound.
The Value: Not that it should matter, but tickets, including fees, were $33. They played for 2 and a half hours. I spent more money on Schlitz tallboys than I did on the show. The Stones are charging $750 for good seats at their 50th anniversary shows. I’d rather see the CRB.
If you’re a fan of great music – especially if you’re a deadhead – you owe it to yourself to check out the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The songs are strong. The covers are great. The playing is exceptional. The vocals are tremendous. Most of all, it’s a real good time.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood
08 November 2012
Paradise Rock Club
- Set One -
TRY ROCK N ROLL
JUMP THE TURNSTILE
MOTHER OF STONE
STAR OR STONE
ROLL OLD JEREMIAH
DO RIGHT WOMEN
- Set Two -
MEANWHILE IN THE GODS…
100 DAYS OF RAIN
WEST L.A. FADEAWAY
VIBRATION & LIGHT SUITE
- encore -
TUMBLEWEED IN EDEN
TOM THUMB’S BLUES