Review and Photos by Linda Tulett
I’ve covered this band quite a bit since starting with JBO in early 2012. I began thinking about this review even before the shows began, how I wanted it to be different. I’ve covered the shows almost note for note, but I think there is more to it. The music is the glue that holds all of the important pieces together, and all of these pieces are integral to the whole. This whole scene reminds me of the good old days, back in the late ‘80s/early 90s when the road was open and the tour was long. I think about back then and how I had to explain to my sister why I would go see the Grateful Dead so often. She’d quip, “But don’t they just play the same songs at every concert?” or, “How can you see the same band play the same songs night after night?” I majored in Sociology in college, and for my senior year, I had to write a final term paper, relating a topic to a major sociological theory. I had to know this subject well, or my research would take forever. I had more than 50 Dead shows under my belt at the time, and I was always finding people who were very curious about the Dead and the whole scene… the music… the hippies…. all of it. It was the perfect combination of something I really related to and knew well enough to not have to do too much research, which made it easier to apply theory. My paper discussed the levels of the society that surrounded the Grateful Dead, from the band to the music to the scene to the fans. I got an A on that paper. My professor loved it so much he read it in class. He even told his wife about it and when I met her, she was eager to discuss it and learn more about a society that was, well, strange to her. I wish I still had it….
Someone somewhere said that seeing The Chris Robinson Brotherhood conjures up those same feelings. I might agree. (Sidebar: this mini-list is by no means meant to be fully inclusive) We had The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Allman Brothers, King Crimson, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Traffic, Quicksliver Messenger Service, Little Feat, and Max Creek… Now we have Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Umphreys’ McGee, Widespread Panic, moe., Grace Potter and the Noctournals, Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Gov’t Mule, Lettuce, Medescki Martin & Wood, Animal Liberation Orchestra, The Mother Hips, Primus, Les Claypool, Galactic, and the list goes on…. The music is the heartbeat. It is necessary for the whole to exist. If the music is the heartbeat, then the band is the vessel in which it is delivered. The fans are the lucky recipients of this and the glue that makes all the pieces fit.
“If you show up, we’ll have room at the table for ya.” (Chris Robinson interview, 101.5 Radio Tahoe)
Last year, I had an opportunity to chat with Chris Robinson, a short but interesting conversation about “small batches.” It started out about beer. I happened to mention that I knew they’d recently had some bottles of Pliny the Elder (or was it Pliny the Younger….), a beer my brother in law wanted me to get for him. (He brews his own beer in the basement and wanted just one bottle of this stuff so he could taste it and try to replicate what the Russian River Brewing Company had done.) Now, I was getting a chance to taste their brew – The Anchor Brewing Company had just released their Brotherhood Steam, a beer that was the brainchild of the CRB’s road manager who had a vision for it. So, catching the ear of CR, he started to talk to me about things in small batches. First, I knew it was beer, but then he continued to stretch the discussion to be about where we were – the beautiful and snug Henry Miller Memorial Library, a place that really only holds a small batch o fans, about 300. This was a small batch show. Then I felt like we were talking about the scene around us, the homegrown feel of it all, the family gathering where everyone pitches in, the pot-luck dinner where everyone brings a dish to contribute to the most satisfying meal.
Some call it counterculture. Something for those who like to be nourished by other than what we are given by mainstream media. There is a little bit of outsider mentality that enables the scene to remain different. It’s OK to be different, weird, unusual or whatever because you’re not alone. But it also allows people to be real, to be human, to make genuine connections, to feel like family, to feel like your comfort zone. It’s about the experiences you get on the road. The places you go and the people you meet are akin to the music and the band. Adventuresome music meets adventuresome people, and it’s like a match made in heaven.
We’ve got our rail riders. There they are, up front every night, right in their favorite spot. They show up hours in advance to wait in line to be first in through the doors and quickly mosey to the rail (if that’s a thing. Trying to say this is not a mad dash but a quick paced leisurely walk…). It’s all so up close and personal. You meet the musician eye-to-eye. There is no hiding. You see them and they see you. You feel them and they feel you. It really is like nothing else, to experience music like that. So intense at times, your world vibrates.
We’ve got our tapers. Oh how we love, love, love our tapers. Especially folks like me who are trying to remember it all so we can put it to words and help you relive it all, or, well, at least make you wish you had been there. They work endless hours for free, putting in time at the show and in post-production and, more often than not, sharing that with the fan base for free. Free! So you can listen to it over and over, feel it all over again while dancing in your living room with abandon, with all the space you want. (Hum, I wonder if that’s where they got that saying, “cut the rug,” from dancing on your living room carpet… Probably not, but it works.) They probably spend more time perfecting their recording than you know or can appreciate. They spend their hard earned cash getting better gear so the sound is better, and even more on programs to perfect every note they capture, and probably every last penny on storage space necessary to archive the stuff. You’ll find ’em in that sweet spot or at least as close to it as the venue will allow. You’ll probably see lots of odd gear, wires taped to the ground, microphones high on a stand, and flashlights on busy moving dials and changing settings. Heck, they might even be right next to the soundboard or connected to it to get that “right there” feel from their sound. I don’t mind hearing some of the crowd noise as it adds to the ambiance of it all. If you happen to find your boogie space next to them, say hello and thank them, and maybe even buy ’em a beer. But then, um, quiet down as they are recording and well, you know…..
Then we have our keepers of the set list. Like our tapers, we love these folks who keep detailed records of the set list, show start and end times, and sometimes even how long the song lasted. They most definitely include special guests and what instruments they played and what songs they sat in on. They probably contribute to websites like Setlist.fm and help chronicle the song titles, origins, and how many times each was played. Sure, now-a-day’s bands are handing a copy of the set list out to fans in the crowd where folks can take a quick snap and share that shit on social media faster than you can say “boo.” But these guys pay closer attention to any show than most of the people there. Not saying that we all aren’t as attuned to what’s happening as the brother or sister next to us, not at all. Have you ever tried to remember the set list after the show or even the next day? It ain’t easy. And, have you ever brought a pen and paper with you to each show so you can write it down in the dark? I have. And I’ve often forgot one or two and usually couldn’t read my own writing. And, seriously, the start and end time to the set list is super helpful. And, I’ll admit, I’ve used it. Combine the start/end time, listen to the taper’s recording and look at the time stamp on my image, and I can tell you, with pretty close accuracy, at what moment in what song I took the picture. Cool!
We’ve got our photographers and artists, our perpetuators of the visual bliss. Yes, yes, me included, but I ain’t boastin’, folks. Just happy. Gleeful. Thankful. Are you kiddin’ me! I’m still like a little kid in a candy store for the first time each time I get the “OK.” Some of us have been hooked on the CRB for a while and not only do I look forward to meeting up with those I boogie but with my fellow photographers who I know will be there, attempting to capture the essence of this all through images. I know when I hit a show who I’m bound to see in the photo pit or butt up against the stage with the rail riders, waiting for the band to come on. They have become like family to me. I look forward to their images. I’m constantly inspired by their art and perspective. Like the tapers, we probably spend more time perfecting our images than you know. We spend hard earned cash on gas and what not to get to the venue to take the pictures; we seek new gear so we can push ourselves to get better, and even more on programs to perfect every pixel we capture, and probably every last penny on storage space necessary to archive the stuff. You’ll find us in our visual sweet spot in front of the stage before the show and wandering through the crowd to capture some scene and venue shots throughout the night. You’ll probably see us carrying a bunch of heavy gear too, although we probably don’t have wires and microphones; we’re a little more mobile, but our backs hurt just the same. Most of us do this for free or at least for dirt cheap. But, what we do get is the thrill of a lifetime and an adrenaline rush like no other. I often get told, whether I’m at a single show or a multi-act festival where you’re pretty much shooting all day, to “put your camera down and have fun!” Well, taking pictures is fun! We do it because we love it and often cannot help ourselves and take way too many. It’s just that, well, that’s how we feel: in images. It’s often how we remember stuff too, visually. Even pages of a book. When we are at a show, we can’t help but to look up and just want to capture everything, every joyous moment. We see light and shadow, and it affects the way we feel the mood of the note: by seeing it on stage. Yeah, we sometimes take way to many too, but it’s digital so…
We’ve got our freak flag, our thang, our logo…. we wear it proudly on buttons, t-shirts, and even fly it on the wall in our home. Most recently, The CRB was gifted a beautiful dream catcher adorned with the “F” and in the colors of the Brotherhood. They loved it so much they hung it on the mic stand for the whole show that night and even hung it off one of the balconies at their Fillmore shows. We’ve even got our protective owl, Possible Dustclouds, who presides over and protects the stage at every show. Recently, PDC has been joined by what seems to be a member of the Cheshire Cat Tribe – we welcome you. It’s kind of like the Steal Your Face with the Grateful Dead, or the rainbow coloring, typesetting and lettering that Phish often uses, or the old smiling lips and dangling tongue of the Rolling Stones. You see it, you know it, and you also know a bit more about the person adorning it.
And now, we’ve got our beer. As mentioned earlier, thanks to the partnership between the band’s road manager and the friendly kind folks at Anchor Brewing, this tasty treat can be found at the bar at most of their shows… or at least the shows I’ve been to, whether on tap or in a can, a beautiful can designed by Alan Forbes, the shaman, the artist behind many ‘o Chris Robinson Brotherhood album covers and gear, and now, beer! Check him out on the world wide web and your social media network. This Brotherhood Steam is sold at some stores in some neighborhoods, but it has not spread far and wide. It’s yummy, a little like golden sunshine in a glass.
I think I’ve said this before, so I apologize if I’m repeating myself. I’ve fallen in love with this group of people. Not only do I look forward to these shows for the music, but the fans I’ve been blessed to meet along this road. They are warm-hearted, dedicated, adventuresome nature, open minded, free spirited, risk takers. It’s the draw of that “On the Road” type of life where the ride to the destination is just as important.
As a matter of fact, there is an article floating around cyberspace that speaks to this very topic called, What Only My Concert Buddies Understand. It is on a country music website, but that matters not as it speaks directly to why some are just different kind of music lovers than others. It’s funny though, or maybe ironic, that this very weekend, my friend and I were discussing this. What music is and does to us. I’ve always found it odd, when in conversation, you ask someone what their favorite band is or what was the last show they caught or what is their favorite song…. and they look at you perplexed and might even say, “I don’t have a favorite band.” or “I’m not that into music.” What? You are not into music?? How can that be? This article goes down a list of about eight things that only concert buddies understand: We can indeed spend our money on other things but we choose not to; these shows we attend are like family gatherings of a sort, as it is the only time we get to see some of our friends; our show friends allow us to be free, to be ourselves without question, no explanation necessary because they just know; we know the band so well, we know their mannerisms, their ad-libs – well, CR always surprises – and often, just by the sound of one note, we know exactly what song they are going to play; this passion may come at a time in our lives when we need music the most – for me it was losing my mom and the emotional release I was allowed to have while listening to it, alone. Music is there for us and can often paint the story of our lives; we absolutely have our favorite artists, and supporting them is like buying your favorite jeans, no matter how much they cost or how far you have to travel to get them. Oh, and we tell all of our friends just how awesome these “jeans” are and that they should like them too! See, this music is addicting to us. This lifestyle is addicting. I actually get butterflies before some shows. Some of it is anxiousness as I prepare to photograph the band, but mostly, it is the building up of my adrenaline as I wait for the crowd to gather, the lights to dim, and the band to hit the stage. There is nothing like it – here we go!!!
There’s one other thing about music fans, these fans in particular. I always meet someone new at each show. A new friend. Typically, they live far away, and I will only see them on social media or have to wait until either they or I travel to the next gig. You might find yourself dancing next to them at a show. You might whisper, “Ooops, sorry!” as you bump them, more than once. And, typically, they just smile and say, “It’s all good!” Or, maybe there is this incredible moment in a song, and you just happen to lock eyes with this person as you are both in the same space at the same time, there is a look in your eye and a smile that you can’t help but to bring to your face to let them know, “Yes! This! This moment right now is incredible!!” Or, you might even find yourself hugging them after the lights come on because of the experience you just shared. And it is then you share names, places and contact info, give them an even bigger hug, and look forward to sharing your boogie space with them again. You’ve just met a new brother or sister, and this is the kind of family you are happy to expand. Just really good people. Seriously. And, we are like a family, crazy aunts and drunk uncles and all.
“I’d like to think that, at the end of the day, you can look at the things that I made as a young person and the things I’ll continue to make as I get older and they’ll be consistently interesting and soulful things, and if you like them they’ll be a part of your dimension, as well.” (Chris Robinson)
I just listened to an interview with Chris, and he was discussing his path from his musical beginning and his musical now. The gravitational pull that led him to music was the human aspect of it – the idea of needing others to get it done, the group feeling of it all. The Brotherhood. How they live. Music comes from a place inside the creator. Who they are, how they’ve lived their lives, the people they’ve met, and the music they listen to are all influential. It’s a blend of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, funk and groove, psychedelic jam, Americana wanna-be-southern hospitality kind of music. It’s welcoming. There is something for everyone at the table. A real potluck of genres. I mean, why not, right? When you think of where these guys all come from and how they put it all together, this is how it should be. Brotherhood.
Take Chris with his southern upbringing: his father was a musician and provided great musical influence, and sharing the stage with his brother for 20 years with the Black Crowes just shredding all that pure rock and roll – high octane is one way to put it, yes, but Chris always showed a soulful side. Then, look at Neal Casal, all over the place in background – growing up a Dead Head and getting to play with Phil Lesh & Friends, Ryan Adams, Hard Working Americans, putting out Circles Around the Sun (all that intermission music you heard at the Fare Thee Well shows was put together by Casal), and sitting in with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Robert Randolph, and Willie Nelson to name a few… Like Neal, Adam MacDougall has quite a resume, from The Black Crowes to Macy Gray to Cat Stevens, rock to folk to jazz to boogie-woogie and funkadelic. I suppose it’s no surprise he can also play the drums – the ability to move your hand and feet at different moments, in different time. Mark Dutton, bass player, is also a producer, engineer, manager, and even does some graphic designs for various other artists, always mind and ears open to what is new out there, taking tastes of it all and using it to add to the rhythm section, which sometimes is so intense it hurts, but in a good way. Those up front and very close to the sound, the speakers, get it. Your clothes vibrate, your chest hurts, and it might be hard to breathe but the music is so intense, you stay right where you are anyway. And, then their latest addition in Tony Leone, who is also a man of many backgrounds, from Ollabelle to sitting in as the drummer for many o Midnight Rambles in the Barn (Levon Helm’s place), to actually being a part of The Levon Helm Band. Just imagine the music he’s supported!! A drummer since the age of five, his early influences were in rock and roll (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc.) as well as some southern rock (The Band, Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, etc.) and, also being a Dead Head, the psychedellic side of rock. Yet, Tony has a degree in Jazz Studies and a bit of a history in the jazz scene.
This background, this long musical influential background of each of these bandmates makes this gig what it is. I can’t quite remember how we came up with it or if this is exactly what we said, but after The Fillmore shows, it was something like… The recipe for The CRB is a big blend of rock, jazz and blues, with a swirl of funk, a dash of Americana, and a big dollop of psychedelic on top… That’s probably wrong, but close enough to be right. It is their own. It is not commercial, it is not mainstream, and it may not be for everyone. But, what it is to some is a perfect cocktail of musical juice that, when you drink it up, you feel it coat your throat and sooth your tummy; it gets into your veins and provides you nourishment, lifts your spirits, alters your personal chemistry in a positive, and beautiful way. More often than not, it sticks with you for days or even weeks, and maybe that good feeling influences you to do good for others.
The roots of the Grateful Dead relationship to jam bands today is the psychedelic seed that The Dead planted decades ago that continues to grow and blossom in ways that perpetuate this type of musical society. This seed continues to sow as it provides a blueprint on how to survive in the industry while remaining outside of the mainstream “box.” Its hand made, hands on, home grown. It’s like a family business, similar to what the Grateful Dead had done – surrounded by tight friends who became the crew, who had the same belief in it all that the band did, who felt a bond to not only the players but the music and what it could be.
So, Thank You Chris Robinson Brotherhood, thank you for continuing to expand my mind, my musical meals, my daily dose of beauty that comes in the form of chords, beats, harmonies, and expressions. Thank you for sharing songs with me that I’ve not heard, opening up the history books to ensure the music stays real. Thank you.
We wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for the music. I first saw The Chris Robinson Brotherhood in 2011. My first shows were at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. I went at the encouragement of a friend who had a feeling I would like them. This was the early iteration of the CRB as they are today, and much of their music was not yet penned. They played a blend of New Earth Mud, some Black Crowes, and sprinkles of other musical influences in the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, old blues and folk tunes, with a side of funk and groove. I still remember that feeling of being at a show surrounded by friends. But I really didn’t know them, hadn’t met them yet. Maybe it was the first time I felt like I was home in a long time. Musical home. It felt right. Next thing ya know, I’m buying tickets for their next shows, hitting three or four that year, the most I’d seen one band in a long time.
Like the scene, the fans and the band, the music is adventurous. From the open jams to the stories behind the lyrics, it is quite a ride. It is not perfect. No one is perfect. Life is not perfect. It is not meant to be. Life is meant to be experienced, to be tasted often and enjoyed with family and friends. Life is meant to be celebrated and cherished. Drink up every drop, savor it, swish it around and over your taste buds a few times rather than just gulping it down. You’ll taste and remember every unique moment just a little more if you do, and, taste stuff you don’t like so you appreciate what you do. It also might make you grow a little, expand your mind a tad, experience something you might never have if you hadn’t taken a risk. Jam bands are like taking a risk. I mean, play a song for 15-minutes with no real written music to follow, just your ear, your heart and your brother to lead you. Yeah, sometimes they are so good you can’t believe your ears, and well, sometimes they aren’t as good as the last jam. But that’s OK because music is meant to be free from limits and open to inspiration.
So, lucky me got to hit three shows on the West Coast – The Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz and both nights at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Some of you Freaks hit a lot more, and I truly wish I could have been there. Believe me, as broke as I am, I was trying to see if I could go to Santa Barbara, which was really the last thing I could afford. While it makes me more than appreciative of the three meals I tasted, I’m still fighting these cravings. Arghh…. when is the next tour????? Wait! I have my live recordings to satisfy that craving, thanks to our tapers!!!
The Cocoanut Grove is located on Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk, down by the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. It’s too bad the show was so late in the year, or the Boardwalk rides may have been open for some pre-show craziness. It’s kind of a cool and funky place. The stage is right there, I mean right there to your left as you walk through the wide open doors. There is a large open space that turns into a dance floor – some is carpeted so there were many times I thought I was dancing on someone’s foot, but it was just the raised edging of where the carpet met the floor. Disco ball hangs from the center of the pointed roof with string lights spraying out like beams from the sun. The bar is in the back, and there are a bunch of windows that face the beach for gazing out at the crashing waves. In the warm weather, they sometimes open those windows to allow the cool ocean breeze in to cool things off.
Of the three shows I saw, I’d say this one was more on their mellow side of the set list. Aside from the opener, “Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham” and “Meanwhile in the Gods,” at least the first set was leaning towards their more rockabilly side than the higher energy of their jam band side. Not that some of the stuff didn’t kick my ass, like “She Belongs to Me,” and that “Beggar’s Moon,” just strutting and stomping the set to a close. Then there was second set. Yes, yes, hello second set. I find myself with no gear to hold so let me just relax and cut loose for a while. Even their mellower choices in “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “About a Stranger” had some musical peaks that lifted them butt up against, if not past that fine line between mellow groove and tasty funky. Like the crazy low hits and big stomping ending of, “Ain’t it Hard But Fair”…. the lyrics fitting too, “Gonna have a good time when we get there,” like letting the band build it up at the end and reaching the celebration at the end. Tossing in a little Allan Toussaint with a most funky, “Get Out of My Life Woman” (Sidebar: and who doesn’t like it when Chris gets to play that harmonica? That is a rhetorical question…. Sidebar 2: I love any song they do that lets Adam MacDougall loose for a few minutes. C’mon!), a little Ottis Redding with a pretty raging, “Hard to Handle,” their own “Vibration Light Suite” which often moves into “Ride,” but this time moved into their version of The Black Crowes “I Ain’t Hiding” which is, pardon me, but a total dance tune, might I even say it came pretty close to the border of disco???? NO! Not Donna Summer stuff (wait, I ain’t knocking Donna, cuz she can get me moving, but there is only certain disco I can hang with), but a bit more like Earth, Wind and Fire or Sly and the Family Stone or War, that kind of disco. Funk. Disco and funk. Funky disco.
Just one more thing. During “Hard to Handle,” maybe one of the most intense one’s I’ve heard, they get to that break in the jam where Chris is at the mic doing a bit of his scatting with it. You know how he does his thing. Some of us just get a kick out of it and let out a bit of a giggle. It’s kind of like when I ride a roller coaster. I love roller coasters, but the thrill of them just makes me swear like a sailor! I can’t help myself. Children should not sit near me on a roller coaster. It’ll be like that movie, A Christmas Story; I work in profanity like other artists might work in oil or clay. Anywhooo, Chris is going off, “What I want babe. What I need babe. Hard to handle babe…. I wanna feel it now. I just want to feel it. I wanna feel you babe….,” and then the last thing he cries into the mic is, “Blow my mind one time!” as he whips around to the band and they take the reins and take us on the craziest ride, like a roller coaster with the seats flipped backwards. You don’t have a clue where you are going, what hills or valleys or loop d’loops there will be. You’re strapped in, yes, but a maybe just a little loosely which gives the ride that extra edge that you crave. I dunno. This $hiT is F!&*ing hard to explain. But let me continue… because after our pure funky dance-driven “I Ain’t Hiding,” there is that “Sunday Sound,” the other tune that I will find hard to explain. Big. Funky. Deep. Vibrational. Joyous. There’s this funky space that Adam takes it to, I mean super funky. It’s just him and Tony, maybe Muddy chimes in here and there. I love this stuff, the breaks in the music when Neal and Chris just sit back and let the rhythm section just rock the house… and I hear someone behind me say, “F!&k yeah!” Pretty much.
The Fillmore. Ah, The Fillmore. There it is, located on the (almost) corner of Geary and Fillmore, on the skirts of Japan Town and across the street from the 78-year old Boom Boom Room, which is rumored to be once owned by John Lee Hooker. (Sidebar: The best seat in the house, the tufted red leather booth right up front, is permanently reserved for Mr. John Lee.) The history that has been made at The Fillmore and the history that continues to get generated inside those walls is ear tingling. What is it about this space – the bands all seem to love it, the fans flock to it. The posters, the beautiful chandeliers, the multitude of spaces to hang out, that big ole picture of Jerry Garcia as you walk up the stairs to the balcony….. Jerry……
Two sold-out shows for a combined near six hours of joyful rock, ear-teasing jazz and mind-bending jams filled with musical sounds that leave you a little shocked and more than amazed at the musicianship this band has reached. Oh, and keep your eyes and ears out in the future there, Freaks, Betty was up on stage, and we know what that means!
First night first set was geared towards the southern rock numbers with a few joyful noises tucked in between. Building momentum through “Taking Care of Business” and “Tomorrow Blues,” they kick it into a bit of a higher pace with “Badlands Here We Come,” one off their last studio release, Phosporecent Harvest. I really like the feel of this one, the music supporting the story in such a way that it places you back in time, to the badlands somewhere in New Mexico. You can almost feel the wind and taste the desert. They’ve been reworking this one for a few years, and it just gets more picturesque each time. And, they are working through the new tunes, “Roan County Banjo,” “Oak Apple Day” and “Ain’t It Hard But Fair” that most likely (I think, eh, but don’t quote me on that…) will appear on their new studio release we hear they might begin to record sometime in the early part of 2016. Both have room to grow, expand, and reach new musical spaces, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it for sure. And I really dig the low hits that can come from “Ain’t It Hard But Fair.” Sometimes I’m unsure who’s doing it, Adam or Muddy, but I was right up front when they did it in San Francisco and could see it wasn’t Muddy, but Adam. Oh goodness, so heavy there go my vibrating clothes. Gosh, I love that stuff.
The pace raised, the level of sound increases, and weirdness is abound for “40 Days,” a song worked up years back by Robinson’s band, New Earth Mud. This was powerful and heavily satisfied the rock and roll in me. Fast and filled with commanding chords, lyrics that tell of the passion, pain and peril of devastation, whether physical or emotional… “…Your words are sad with wisdom and as you speak they float away, into some mystic vision that holds back this heavy rain. You who have never swam the river; You who have never much as cared. You who now seeks solace will find no comfort here. Fear is never kind as it creeps into your mind… 40 days, boys, 40 days. You’ll have to leave what you can’t carry. 40 days….”
However, the highlights of the first set, for me anyway, were the back-to-back “(Last of the Old Time) Train Robbers” and “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson,” that cover of Delany & Bonnie that I can’t seem to get enough of. I even joked to my best taper buddy after first set ended that I’d heard my “Poor Elijah” so I was all set; I could actually leave the show and I’d still be happy. Yeah, right? NOT! Me, leave a show early? Not sure when that happened last….. I know when it should have happened and it didn’t and my car got locked in a parking garage and I ended up spending the night in The City (although we did try to talk the dude at the hotel into giving us the room for half price since it was 2 AM and we’d be leaving by 7 AM…. and it worked!!). The “Train Robbers” is as it generally is, does what it generally does…. It is big. It hits you as deep as the Grand Canyon. And it ends on a vibration that lingers, maybe not long enough…. But, what is that I hear? A tease or will it be? Then the tease of a note turns into the full blown groove I love. There is something about the funk of this song, the rolling groove, the stretch to the slide. Oh the slide…. Maybe that’s it. I love it, the ooey-gooey stretch-ability of the way the slide makes the guitar sing a bit differently. Maybe it’s the fact that they cut loose on this one for somewhere close to 15 minutes, and really, I always think the song ends too soon! The slide peak, about six minutes in, was so sweetly given, Neal really going to the highest spot he could, fingers of both hands so close they nearly shook hello. The circular jam in the center just hangs out in this spot where I guess my mind and body like to be. It’s like the breeze of a tornado, swirling around you and lifting you up inside it’s spin. But, be careful when you get to the top as it gets faster and louder, and Adam is right there to push you around just a little faster, almost fast enough to get you tossed out the top, but there are Chris and Neal, just in time, to rein it back in and get that circular jam going again, and swirl you on down back to the solid ground, a little disheveled, hair a little messed up, but grinning ear to ear. Yeah, ain’t nuthin goin on here but a good time; ain’t nobody here but good people….
Opening second set with a Leon Russell number, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” one of their newer working covers; for me anyway as this was only the third (I think) time I’ve heard them do this. Their take is a bit quicker in pace and definitely bigger in volume than Leon, but a song that seems to fit them. It’s got the big crescendo, warm harmonies, and enough room to let the band feel it out and play it their way – big passionate vocals from Chris with grand backing vocals from Adam, Neal and Muddy, a tad of the synthesizing keyboards that is so very Adam, and multiple avenues for Neal to take his guitar solos, avenues that weave and wind around the steady rhythm that grooves along in the background.
There was the sweet soothing “100 Days of Rain,” a song that just grows on me more and more. Soft swaying beats, the guitar sings sweetly to the crowd, almost as gently as Chris tells the tale. But, wait for it, the build up is coming; there is a change in the song about three minutes in, “Fair and tender lady, come take my mind and wander. Lay with me, until the stars refuse to shine. Be my dream through sweet silver slumber, beyond this morning past the gray walls of time….There is what we’re given, there is what we gave, what you lose what you gain. There is what must be broken, what must be saved, and what’s already gone…..” A break in the lyrics, a space for Neal’s guitar to bring you up to those stars, to put notes to your dreams that guide you through that sweet silver slumber…. it just all works so well. Even now, getting to listen to it again as I write this (thank you, oh awesome tapers), I walk away from my computer and move closer to the speakers to let the music take me back…. And my memories are tactile and vivid.
The jam out of “Meanwhile in the Gods…” into “Tulsa Yesterday” was so crazy, it made me feel like I was on sumpthin’. Even listening to the recording again, I get placed back in that same mindset. The waves of sound, the ethereal feel, the interplay of lights (thank you, Mr. Lightman), and chords making it feel like you were in another world. AND, I got “Rosalee” and a three-fer encore. Oh so glad I didn’t really take myself too seriously and hit the door after that more than satisfying first set!!
Of the two-fer Fillmore shows, I was more blown away by the second night. I got in early, got my spot up front so I could get some good shots off for the first two songs… and there I stayed. Unlike night one, where I moseyed around for second set, getting a walk of the Fillmore and hearing songs from a different space, I found myself not wanting to leave the front of the stage on Saturday night. Maybe it was the energy in the first set telling me to stay put – I mean it was a sold out weekend in San Francisco. Maybe it was the music fan in me that over rode the photographer in me. Maybe it was the day, the anniversary, the thing that changed my life and pushed me towards photography. Whatever it was, I didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t taking any pictures. The music mattered more that night. As it should…..
From the first note of “Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham,” you could feel it. There was a kick to it, a swing and a boogie. I remember the lights were as crazy as the music, especially looking through my viewfinder and trying to grab a shot of the stage – which way do I look? Neal was ripping it on lead but Chris was over to my right boogieing on the rhythm, and then there was Adam wailing on the keys to the left of Neal, or Muddy in his stance, head down and just thumping the bass, and I could see Tony just smashing the drums back there, with a grin from ear to ear. Adrenalin pumping for sure!
It’s almost like the pace got progressively slower, from the slow strut of “Jump the Turnstiles” to a little stroll through a swampy “Tornado” to the always beautiful and sweet ballad in “Star or Stone.” I suppose I mention the funkier rock n’ roll stuff a bit more, cuz I just dig it. But, the ballads, the way that Chris beckons your soul to emerge and feel it along with his, with the musical brother or sister standing next to you. And the words are vivid and picturesque as is the scene they paint in your mind. Kind of like what that “Tumbleweed in Eden” does too……
And, then here we go again, kicking it back into gear with a lively take on Dylan’s, “She Belongs to Me.” Man, and lively really isn’t right, more like funky, or funkadelic, most definitely danceable. I really dig the way they do this, really dig it. So different than the original, so very very different: Different tempo, different volume (!), and a different vibe to the way they want to present it. Where Dylan’s is more of a ballad, a song for a unique woman, a free woman, a woman who has everything she needs, and maybe doesn’t need him…. and then this version done up the CRB way is only recognizable via the lyrics because the rest is a good cry from the original.
Like I said earlier, Saturday night’s show was a blow out. I didn’t leave the front of the stage the whole night. Glued to it. I rode with the Rail Riders all night long, and it was awesome. In your face awesome. I wonder what the band thinks when they look down at the front row and see us raging. I mean, the only real beautiful breather we were granted was for “Reflections on a Broken Mirror” (the goosebumps generating “oooohhh ooh-ooh-ooh oooohhh…”) as the rest of the set was more along their high energy, heavy hitting dance numbers. Man, was I glad I wore my comfy boots cuz my feet were stomping! I mean, pretty much the rest of it tore my mind open. I remember really having my ears bent in ways they’d never been before for “Hard to Handle” – they get so much energy flowing for this one, all of ’em, not just Chris with the way he sings it at ya, (AT you which is different than TO you), but how Neal responds with the guitar and all those odd lookin’ pedals he’s got that make some pretty incredible sounding notes, and Adam answers back, and the synthesizer tickles your mind. I think it did too, literally tickled my mind. I remember sort of holding onto my skull for a minute there, thinking, you know, better safe than sorry! Even the jazz they put to “Vibration & Light Suite” can be pretty twisting and turning, your body flowing with the ease of the rhythm of Muddy’s soft thumping bass and a little tingle of the cymbals out of Tony as your sensors are in tune with Neal and Chris’s dual guitars and Adam dancing on the keys in between it all. Yeah, well don’t get too melancholy there because, before you know it, look out! It hits that break; you know it. It gets a little rough and crazy, the psychedelia comes out of the speakers to meet up with the patterns the lights are making inside of the hall. I mean, it was almost Halloweenesque, if that is a word. Eerie, dark, loud, sensory overload, you’re a little out of your body or at least your mind, it’s the adrenalin you crave to put you on the edge of your seat, even if you are standing with two feet firmly on the ground. Yeah, it’s this one; this one that breaks my skull open and has me looking for pieces of it on the floor when the lights go back up.
With the addition of Tony Leone and his skills on the guitar/mandolin combined with Adam MacDougall’s skills on the drums, they’ve been able to expand their repertoire a tad, tossing in a few acoustic and mandolin styled tunes. In Santa Cruz, a semi-acoustic “Wheels,” a first-time CRB played tune by the Flying Burrito Brothers. I could hear a murmur in the crowd as folks were figuring out the familiar tune, one of those that you know you know, but it takes a few minds that think alike to pin it down. I know they tossed in more acoustic encores at the Crystal Bay Casino show with, “Girl From the North Country” as well as Santa Barbara, with another first-time played “Been All Around This World.” And, then, the two Fillmore shows, both fully acoustic encores, and the second night three-fer encore with Barry Sless (David Nelson Band, Moonalice, Great American Taxi, Phil Lesh & Friends, Rowan Brothers, etc.) on pedal steele and a tribute to the New Riders of the Purple Sage with, “What You Gonna Do,” “Last Lonely Eagle,” and “Lonesome LA Cowboy.” Night one, also a three-fer encore, acoustically done, consisted of two covers and a traditional. I mean what a sweet and beautiful “The Last Place That Love Lives,” a song that gave me goose bumps on top of my goose bumps. It just sounded so pretty that way, taken down a notch and softened up a tad, like it was meant to be that way. I swear, if I’d had closed my eyes, Neal was playing a pedal steel, but that instrument wouldn’t appear until the next evening. They picked it up a tad for Dylan and The Band’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – “Whoo-ee! Ride me high. Tomorrow’s the day my bride’s gonna come. Oh, oh, are we gonna fly, down in the easy chair!” Just a feel good kind of song, makes ya wanna sway and sing along! Ending it that night with, “I Am a Pilgrim” a traditional gospel song that has been performed by multiple musicians from multiple genres such as The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Merle Travis, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Doc Watson, and even recorded as far back as 1864 (so says some diggin on the internet and finding a blogspot). This really let us hear Tony on the mando, that light picking and steady strumming just so perfectly fitting in and around everyone on stage. They definitely do it some respectful justice.
You know, here’s the thing. I have to delete a lot of what I write (OK, OK, I know these are long. But, I’ve always been told I write like I talk, and I do have the gift of gab, thanks to my mom). Can you imagine if I didn’t??? Jeez, it already takes a long time to do this, and I don’t want y’all to have to sit for too long and read, but I do my best to pull out some highlights and provide you with some musical nuggets. Just enough of a taste to make you remember it if you were there and just enough to piss you off if you weren’t. So, I didn’t include how much I love the mellow spaces of “Reflections on a Broken Mirror,” “Beware, Oh Take Care,” or “About a Stranger.” Nor did I mention the joy that “Little Lizzie Mae” can generate, or “Jump the Turnstile,” or “Someday Past the Sunset.” I didn’t even get a chance to say how much I love their mind blowing takes on covers such as, “Got Love if You Want It,” “West LA Fadeaway,” “Hog For You,” “Where the Music’s Hot”….. But, I think I made my point here… Carry on. (I bet you are about to go check their website for the upcoming tour, ain’t ya? Go ahead. And, I’ll see ya there…..) http://chrisrobinsonbrotherhood.com/tour-dates/
Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, Santa Cruz
December 6th, 2015
1st Set: Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham, Roan County Banjo, Eagles on the Highway, Tornado, She Belongs To Me, Meanwhile In The Gods… ? Tulsa Yesterday, Beggars Moon
2nd Set: Stranger In A Strange Land, Ain’t It Hard But Fair, Get Out Of My Life Woman , About A Stranger, Hard To Handle, Vibration & Light Suite ? I Ain’t Hiding, Sunday Sound
The Fillmore, San Francisco
December 11th, 2015
1st Set: Taking Care of Business, Tomorrow Blues, Badlands Here We Come, Roan County Banjo, Oak Apple Day, 40 Days, Train Robbers, Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson
2nd Set: Stranger In A Strange Land, Ain’t It Hard But Fair, 100 Days of Rain, West LA Fadeaway, Shore Power, Meanwhile In The Gods… ? Tulsa Yesterday, Rosalee
Encore: Last Place That Love Lives, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, I Am A Pilgrim
December 12th, 2015
1st Set: Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham, Jump The Turnstiles, Tornado, Star or Stone, She Belongs To Me, Little Lizzie Mae, Tumbleweed In Eden ? I’m A Hog For You
2nd Set: Saturday Night At The Fillmore, Ain’t It Hard But Fair, The Music’s Hot, Reflections on a Broken Mirror, Hard To Handle, Vibration & Light Suite ~> I Ain’t Hiding, Got Love If You Want It
Encore*: Whatcha Gonna Do, Last Lonely Eagle, Lonesome LA Cowboy
*w/Barry Sless on pedal steel