The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s 2012 run at the Great American Music Hall (GAMH) resulted in a live album release, “Betty’s Blends, Volume One”. Betty was there this year as well, in a small room downstairs at the GAMH along with her soundboard and other necessities that make her blends the best on vinyl. So, hopefully, that means another dose is a comin’ and it can’t get here soon enough.
In requesting my pass to cover this, I was grinning at the thought to get tickets to two of the four, and shoot one night for JBO, which, seriously leaves me plenty of great shots to mull through (people asked me why I wasn’t shooting all four nights, so, there’s a semi-answer). Look, there are bands I love and there are bands I LOVE. For these guys, it’s the latter. The other two nights, I just plopped myself front and center with a bunch of great folks (who I am throughly falling in love with), a yummy Steam in hand, and just let loose and enjoyed the show. And I’ll be dammed, I missed “Humboldt Windchimes” again. I will just have to keep going to more shows so I don’t miss it. And, I love the way they do “Poor Elijah” as well, so, another one I’m chasing to see. Plans are made……
I really can’t say that I had a favorite of the three nights I saw. Each night was it’s own separate event, with a different vibe and energy, different folks in the crowd, well, other than the core fans, the beautiful freaks and dedicated trip-takers. But, I can say, that for all three nights the band totally brought it. There was no holding back and there were tons of smiles, jokes, laughter, interactions not just on stage but in the audience. I hear folks using the word, “epic” quite a bit these days. I don’t use it, but I might change my ways now. These were the kind of shows that leave you with vivid memories, tactile memories, tasteful memories… and definitely yearning for more.
Each night started with that, “here we go” blast of rock and roll, with tunes like, “Try Rock and Roll”, “Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham”, “Shake Rattle and Roll”, and “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” following with a blend of smooth sweet jams, funky blues, jazz, boogie, and nods to their influences in Bonnie and Delaney, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Big Joe Turner, Slim Harpo, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Otis Redding, Three Dog Night and Hoyt Axton… to name more than a few…
The Great American Music Hall is such a pretty hall to catch a performance. I hadn’t been there in some time and had forgotten how small it was. It really can feel intimate, especially with a band like this who’s got a fan base that can turn a show into a little bit of a family gathering of sorts. For a photographer, the lighting was tough, but for a music fan, the sound was great and the space was something to enjoy, with all of it’s intricate designs and ornate workings that reflect back the color of the stage lights so beautifully. Putting the right band and the right crowd together in a space like this can release a little bliss. Speaking of releases, The CRB and Anchor have announced that the Anchor’s Brotherhood Steam would soon be out in cans – and by soon I do believe that, by the time you read this, some of you may see in a beer isle near you, if it is released in your area. This JBO contributor is a fan of beer and can say from first hand experience, um, YUM. Go grab some and enjoy the taste of cinnamon sunshine and bask in its warm amber afterglow. And, hello, the can is designed by Alan Forbes – c’mon!
Back to the tunes! Of the three nights I caught, I think the rowdiest crowd was Saturday. OK, OK, it was sold out, but so was Friday, which I must say, I do remember it getting very tight on Friday come second set…… (Wait, what? Just show up just during second set? Well, there’d better be a good excuse cuz you missed quite a start there buddy.) And, waiting in line to get in on Saturday, we heard from the folks who got there super early that they could hear a little bit of The Stones being played for sound check. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but, well, sometimes it does, and it did for this weekend with, three songs appearing in the second half of the night. I do believe the place ate that $h*t up! Yeah, Saturday was the rowdiest for sure.
But, back to Friday for a bit. As I said earlier, there was no easy start here as they punched it with, “Hello LA, Bye By Birmingham”, super groovin’ feel, that warm, almost old school sound to the rolling feel of the guitars, get ya moving and warmed up for what’s to come. After a stretchier blues beat in “Tomorrow Blues” they offer up, “Pack it Up”, a Freddie King song, that is a taste of rhythm and funk perfectly blended together. You can’t talk about funk without talking about beat, so you can’t talk about funk without talking about Muddy and George. Seriously. Well, you also can’t talk about this song without saying something about Adam either, who uses the keys to stretch the funk out to places your hips may have forgotten about. There was a little bit of that underwater Jerry sound to the way Neal chose to play this one too, with a lot of “wah-wah” for your head.
The end of the first set, the three songs that closed it out – “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Star or Stone”, and “Got Love if You Want It”….. it was like a slow build to the energy, to close the set on a high note, something that rattles the ceiling, and says, “You asked for it, so, here you go. And, we’re nice so we’ll give you a few to catch your breath before we come back and slay you…… in a good way.” I suppose our warning was with, “Safe in the Arms of Love”, which is a blend of rock and ballad, as it moves back and forth from a smooth soothe to moments of confirming guitar licks that probably touched the stars. “Stepped out of my shadows, to kiss your soul so full of sky. Said you’d know why. Love that has no ending, just a joy that keeps on giving love. Said that’s right…… As long as we’re together, as long as we’re together………” Now, the way The CRB does this Otis song can just melt you. This one is all Chris, in the way he sings it to ya. The music has a slow, warm, sway to it. Kind of reminds you of a waltz, as the beat carries you back and forth and the guitar swirls you around the space between the lyrics. These old soulful love songs, from Otis or Marvin or Sam or Smokey or whoever makes you swoon, were and still are the best kind of love songs – passionate. The “Star or Stone” was all Neal, who’s got that playing style that can carry you away. The build of power, the slow climb to the top, from the slow sway to the soaring crescendo…. and then there’s the way Neal plays, to me, his guitar sounding like what synchronized swimmers would sound like, if they created music while in perfect union. I can’t tell if he’s pulling on two strings or just one. As they opened up with a hit to your rock and roll soul, they closed it the same way with, “Got Love if You Want it”, a Slim Harpo song that these guys play like it was made for them. Neal’s slide work, Adams funky keys, the bass and beat of Muddy and George, and well, the way Chris sings this……. quit teasin’ me baby. And, what an ending they give this, it literally takes the wind out of ya. Now, that’s a rock and roll show!
They started out the second set a little easier on us with, “Memphis, Tennessee”, that more than recognizable Chuck Berry 60’s hit with a twang and a pull amongst a little bit-o-strut. The second set also included a few more additions from their latest release, Phosphorescent Harvest, which was scattered all over the four night run amongst other songs pulled from older releases, not just from this iteration of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (The Magic Door, Big Moon Ritual), but from the days of Chris’s solo work (New Earth Mud and This Magnificent Distance). My favs of the second set had to be in, “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor” – just love the way this is two songs in one, as it starts out with a quicker beat and has you, “leaning into a sideways rain” as you are taken by the hand to the vastness of the clear blue sky, carried on a slight breeze by sounds that make you really happy. You can feel it, the warmth of the music as Chris describes the sun coming out, slowly rising in the sky, waking your mind gently for the start of something new. “Tornado”, is also another favorite of mine, the way it has a slow and easy feel to it. While on their latest release, has appeared on The CRB set lists for a while prior and is an older song penned by the Robinson brothers.
That “Tough Mama” interlude, with Adam on keys, reminded me of a moment you might catch in “Ride” although not as hard or in-your-face, as the later, with Neal and Chris in the background shredding along. There is a definite difference between the way Neal and Chris play solos. You can hear it not only in just the sound from their chosen instrument but from the thought process that leads to the finger process that leads to the way they steer your mind through a song. While Neal may offer you that smooth ride, like you are in a luxury vehicle, you can’t necessarily feel the bumps in the road as the tires absorb the shocks and move you smoothly down the highway. Where, Chris, he might convince you to get on the back of a motorcycle, which is a little more daring and certainly a little more rough and open to the elements, with the wind leaving your hair all messed up.
I’ll just say it once – well, maybe this is once for those who may not have read any review of mine…. Just love me that, “Rosalee” and I was glad they played it twice in the three shows I saw. Yep. Play it all ya want guys, and I will eat it up every time. Love that slide guitar, pulling at ya, dragging you musical spirit back and forth. In my opinion, it is a great set closer; it offers the crowd an easy energy with lots of opportunity to move, a long space near the end that slows you down enough to catch a breath, before lifting it back up for the spirited ending, where, yes, we are collectively getting high on the musical hookah being passed around from stage to audience.
Closing out the night with a two-fer encore, I remember this single moment, during a very spacey, elongated jam in “Serves Me Right to Suffer”, and someone lets out a huge scream. I mean HUGE. Was it joy, exasperation, agreement, exhilaration? Whatever it was, it was probably just one of those moments of pure abandonment, of sheer letting go, when you can feel it building up inside you to a point of boiling – where you can’t help it, but, your excitement just cannot be contained any longer and you let go. They just said what we were all feeling in that moment – yyyyyyeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!! Right on.
With the buzz about the possibility of a few Stones songs on the setlist for Saturday, as mentioned earlier, there was a little more excitement generating in the line waiting to get in than the night before. Set opener gave us a rockin’-swingin’ “Shake Rattle & Roll”, easy enough to set the crowd to “boogie” on the dial. A simple groove, a throw back to the early days, one that sticks to musical history and says something about what rock and roll used to be. Well, and these guys have their own spin on it, in their own space boogie kind of way. I might say that “Beggar’s Moon” was a nice slow down, a little stretch and stick to it (or was that my feet sticking to the floor?). But really, does it? The beat may be straightforward but there’s still the need to move; an easier move but ya still gotta get it on. “The back-beat, ma’ma, make ya feel alright. Groovin’ it loose when I’m gettin’ too tight…” Yup.
I really like the way they do Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, with more than a bit of a sweeter, lighter feel to it. They hold true to the basics of this song, but their take on it is so much more focussed on exploring the electrifying side of it as to Dylan’s focus on the affirmative strum of the acoustic side. It’s light and danceable with a steady beat your feet can count on from Muddy and George. There’s a funky rhythm guitar that holds your hips in a swing and sway, and there’s that underwater wah-wah sound outta Neal that your shoulders can bop to, steady, as Adam’s key work gives a wiggle to your head. And for 7 minutes, that’s allota boppin’ and wigglin’.
They close out the first set with non-stop energy, blending and moving from one song to the next with barely a breath in between. Strutting off down the road into “Meanwhile in the Gods”, it’s got a bit of a southern feel to it, until you hear Adam off in the cosmos on the keys, leaving you wondering just where the heck this road is leading you… into a very jazzy interlude, respectfully jazzy I must say, even if just for a brief yet highly jammin’ moment before the chords begin melting down, and I mean melting, spiraling slowly through the spaces between and around each other into a little gentle and sweet, “Tumbleweed in Eden.” It rolls like a lullaby, rocking and moving you back and forth. Until right after the last verse when the song opens a bit, picks up the pace just a tad and offers up a nice jam before slowing down again and moving quite nicely into another one of their covers they do oh so well with, “Never Been to Spain” to end the set. Keeping pretty true to the Three Dog Night’s version, with that warm and full-sounding guitar and great harmonies. Neal’s slide work on this on was exceptional.
I can’t let Saturday go without discussion of “Train Robbers”, an older song on a release of Robinson’s from over 10 years ago. It’s a song for old myths and legends, when the musician was the outlaw, the storied life and the romance of it all… “I think I’ll rob a train and move to South America, wander out in the rain, come out smiling and dry. Legend, fortune and fame, I will be the stuff of headlines, another household name to be discarded with time.” Very slow and eerie throughout, it is psychedelic and poetic, with intricate guitar work and warm harmonies, and crescendos that punch you in the chest. It was all very intense, you could feel the energy get still and thick, and you could see it on stage. It was a vivid song played in such a way that gets talked about for days.
How did the rest of this Saturday night go, you ask? It was a wham-bam, in-your-face, thank-you very much, holy cow, what the f— kind of a night. Offering up three songs from the Stones with “Hot Stuff”, one which I had heard rumors of this on the set list prior to the show so was maybe kind of waiting for it, a beautiful ballad in “Winter”, and then the rowdy “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like it)” to end one incredible Saturday night. Kept true to the originals, “Hot Stuff” was, well, mighty-mighty fine, with the mesmerizing beat that takes over the crowd and gets the whole place, well, as the lyrics go, “Everybody on the dance floor, you know what I’m talking about. Music make you forget all your trouble, make you sing and make you tell the whole wide world…. So what? Hot stuff….” I can’t stand it when the music stops……
But, wait, in between all of that Stones fun, we had some stuff I will always appreciate, you can count on me to rock out to, and never get tired of hearing. The two-fer in, “Vibration & Light Suite” into “Ride”…… There is so much energy that they put into this, that they receive it back two-fold from the audience. The give and take on the stage, from the stage to the audience, throughout the bodies on the dance floor, and back up to the stage. I dunno how to describe this feeling for me. There is a deep vibrational hit to your body as they reach the bottom of the scale in “Ride”, Muddy and Adam… all of them. Chris just hangs off the mic, jittering and scatting, shaking and rattling his body as if controlled by some other worldly thing that has gotten control. Yes. That IS rock and roll, and we like it. Yes, we do.
Winding seriously down with “Burn Slow”, this melting warmth they cast over the place, listening to the sound of a stretching guitar string and staring at the smoke spiraling up from the stage incense – entrancing. There is a deep source that creates the psychedelic flow of the silvery-grey plumes that make their way to the stars. It took me away, so much I almost forgot all the darn chatter around me on the back of the floor! Shhhhhhhhhh… or maybe just go, just go outside to have your dumb conversation. WTF, it is that important? Arghhhhh… Burn slow…
I found a quieter space, thank goodness, for “Winter”, because that was one nice, beautifully played ballad. From The Stones’ “Goats Head Soup”, it’s got an easy rhythm, a soothing strum and beat as Chris sings about the long cold winter and yearning for the warmth of the summer to come. I’ve been in that place, growing up in Western New York, we had many a long, hard, cold winter [and yes, I did have to walk a mile to school in it!!]. The smell of spring, the excitement of the snow melting. Heck, the first warm day of spring, people would put on their shorts and wash their cars, maybe even get out the mower to cut down that one blade of bright green grass they spied poking through what was left of winter. And then it would snow again… But, there is also a beauty to it, when the snow falls and blankets everything in sparkles. Holiday time, building a fire and wrapping up in a blanket to keep warm, sipping hot cocoa and watching the snowflakes as they gently glide through the air, falling to the ground. “It’s sure been a hard, hard winter. My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground. And, I hope it’s gonna be a long, hot summer, and the light of love will be burning bright.” It is filled with such atmosphere.
Sunday, the last night of this 4-night run, we walk in on some groovin’ music cranking from the speakers. I look over to the DJ area and see Chris with the headset on, as well as wearing a huge grin and gettin’ into it. He came out to DJ and hang with the Freaks. Nice. If Saturday came with a nod to The Rolling Stones, then Sunday came with a bow to the Grateful Dead, with three songs showing up in the second set. I love the way Chris sings the Jerry lyrics, like they were made for him too; and the way that Neal can conjure up Jerry on the guitar is, um, spiritual and respectful. For the December 2012 run at the Great American Music Hall, Neal got to play Wolf, one of many guitars Jerry had custom built by Doug Irwin (there is a photo taken by Jay Blakesberg of Neal holding Wolf backstage, and the look on his face is pure bliss.). Now owned by Sonia Dada band member Dan Pritzker, who believes in the idea that Wolf should be played, not just put on display or stored away. Neal is quoted as saying, “That guitar spoke to me in a massive way.” (Relix interview, 2012) While there was no Wolf sightings this time around, matter not, The CRB as a way with tunes from the Grateful Dead, placing soul where it belongs and driving the groove that moves ya.
Well, this run certainly was a house party, and people sure did come from miles around…. Opening the last night with “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” was one way to get the evening going. A familiar rock beat that contains a bit of a stomp and shuffle, and lots of open spaces for Neal to rip on the guitar and take you back to the rock and blues of Chuck Berry, if for a minute.
Chris says, “Alright, nice to see everybody. [cheer] Well, then, I already saw most of you out front anyway. But, it’s good to see you again! [cheer] Thank you for sacrificing your Sunday.” [cheer] Then, someone down front says something I can’t hear, but Chris does, and responds back, “Oh, I’m not gonna get started on that shit. We gotta long night!” to which the crowd responds with louder cheers. And, they wiggle their way through “Jump the Turnstiles”, another one that has their particular stomp and strut, with a little shuffle and “riddim” mixed in. I love the way this song winds down at the end, changing the volume on this and taking the key up a notch, beckoning all to sing along, “Call me gone, down the road!”
So, keeping up with a seemingly four-day good mood, Chris returns to the mic to continue the conversation. “I mean the only reason I would, uh, mention sacrifice was, well, because it’s seasonally appropriate. [laughter and cheers] I mean, according to my Pagan Calendar app,” which just gets more laughter from the crowd. I love it when the stage banter continues throughout the evening. You get music and comedy, all in one!
With a handful of repeats played over the short run at GAMH, I’m quite OK with hearing “Star or Stone” again, such a soulful song. It’s not just the music here, as I described earlier, but the lyrics that are spun from the edge of the microphone… “Between love and hope and money, there’s loss and pain and honey, so, take a spoonful every time. And if you don’t like what you see, well, don’t come running to me. ‘Cause I’m bound to my own way, I’m a million miles away. I won’t look back at my dream burning on the side of the road. Sometimes, it just goes like that. Falling or flying, star or stone…..” Soulful, story-telling lyrics backed by sweet harmonies, and generous spaces for long, beautiful leads and riffs. Gives me goosebumps.
Songs with attitude, with Bob Dylan’s “Crash on the Levee” (“…You’re gonna have to find yourself another best friend somehow…”), and their own”40 Days” or “Shore Power” (as CR told Rolling Stone, “Just a sonic snapshot of a typical day in the heads of all of us on planet freedom.”), both of which have a break in the song that hits you in the head for a few seconds…. Or songs that paint a picture drawn upon sorrow or dreaming or roaming, with “Wanderer’s Lament” (“… hold my hand and let’s go under. To be reborn in some new place, where our souls are never strangers…..”), “Last Place that Love Lived” (“…. Is the last place that love lived, where the sad woman cries? Is the last place that love lived, behind your eyes…..”), “100 Days of Rain” (“…I’ve been through this storm before. Blow a kiss and wave goodbye to me, soon I’ll be outside your door…”), and “Good Time Charlie”, by Danny O’Keefe, and the lessons in life that teach you, that you can’t win ’em all, so have a drink and buck up. There’s a reason why there are quite a few watering holes named after Good-time Charlie.
But wait, I cannot forget about that “Sunday Sound” and my favorite interlude where they let Adam hit the keys. You might spy both Neal and Chris kind of dancing a bit here, with nuthin left to do but smile smile smile as they watch him conjure up some groovy funk and strut. Out of all of it, I think the nice touch for me was their rendition of the old “Betty and Dupree”, that traditional song that The Grateful Dead, along with Peter, Paul and Mary, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters and others played often, and each in their own way. The CRB’s version was less Grateful Dead-like (theirs reworked as, “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”) than it was, maybe Jorma or Peter, Paul and Mary-like. Now, I am well aware this is not the first time played in 2014, but it was my first time enjoyed.
A rock and roll band that plays jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and funk, boogie and woogie, jam and groove, and, well, rock and roll, of course. “Roll Old Jeremiah” for one, has a rock and rhythm to it before it can turn into one psychedelic jazzy jam. Or, holding on, improvising and exploring for “Tulsa Yesterday” which rolled smoothly out of “Roll old Jeremiah” before soaring to the nether-lands at the end, a sound out of Neal that could reckon back to The Grateful Dead in the height of “The Other One.” And, with songs of The Dead on the set, well, they ain’t afraid to go down that winding road, from the smooth, twisting curves of “They Love Each Other” to the hills and valleys of “West L.A. Fadeaway”, there is so much talent in this group, they really could take a lean into most any song and give it the respect it deserves while still honoring their own spirit as well.
Thursday, November 20th
First Set: Try Rock n Roll, Jump The Turnstiles, About a Stranger, She Belongs To Me, Someday Past The Sunset> Mother Of Stone, Beware, Poor Elijah
Second Set: Tulsa Yesterday, Older Guys, Meanwhile In The Gods> Silver Car, 100 Days of Rain, Beggars Moon, Appaloosa, Sunday Sound
Encore: Star Crossed Lonely Sailor, Sail on Sailor, Humboldt Windchimes
Friday, November 21st
First Set: Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham, Tomorrow Blues, Pack It Up, If Your Wheel Don’t Roll, Safe In The Arms of Love, That’s How Strong My Love Is, Star or Stone, Got Love If You Want It
Second Set: Memphis, Tennessee, Shore Power, Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor, Tornado, Tough Mama>I Ain’t Hiding> Driving Wheel, Rosalee
Encore: Serves Me Right To Suffer, Love’s Made A Fool Of You
Saturday, November 22nd
First Set: Shake Rattle & Roll, Beggars Moon, Badlands Here We Come, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, About A Stranger, Meanwhile In The Gods> Tumbleweed in Eden> Never Been To Spain
Second Set: Saturday Night In San Francisco, Reflections on a Broken Mirror, (Last of the Old Time) Train Robbers, Hot Stuff, Vibration & Light Suite> Ride, Burn Slow, Rosalee
Encore: Winter, It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)
Sunday, November 23rd
First Set: Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go, Jump The Turnstile, Star or Stone, Roll Old Jeremiah, Tulsa Yesterday, Crash on the Levee, Wanderer’s Lament, 40 Days
Second Set: Stranger In A Strange Land, Shore Power, Safe In The Arms of Love, 100 Days of Rain, Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor, They Love Each Other, Last Place That Love Lives, Sunday Sound
Encore: Good Time Charlie, Betty & Dupree, West LA Fadeaway