What is it about this band? Days later, I glimmer in the splendor of my experience. OUR experience. The exchanges on stage; the exchanges in the crowd; the exchanges between the band and the crowd create the shared experience. I did not like science in school, couldn’t wrap my brain around it I guess. But, sometimes I liken these incredible moments, when it all comes together like it did this weekend, as a kind of bioelectricity. There was definitely some conversation, some interaction or interchange between the beings on stage and the freaks on the lawn, creating a glow from within, an incandescence. Could have been something in the air, most likely a combination of it all. If I inquired, each would describe something different about how they felt, but I’m also sure, during their response, you’d hear things relating to their soul, consciousness, physiology, or maybe a little mysticism; something you just can’t explain.
California, oh beautiful California…… The Henry Miller Memorial Library (HMML) is tucked away behind a fence, encircled by the love and warmth of redwood trees. Located in Big Sur, just along Highway 1, and I mean literally – just a handful of parking spots in front, so unless you arrived super early, parking was either a short walk from the area below Napenthe Restaurant or maybe you’d find yourself tucking your car in-between redwood trees. This was not the first time Freaks were treated to a Brotherhood show at this venue, as they spent a weekend here in 2011. I was there, it was my first show at the HMML and I’ll never forget the experience when I walked through the gate for the first time. Wow, just wow.
At arrival, the gates are still closed, leaving those who haven’t been to the historic Henry Miller Memorial Library wondering what it would be like inside. Walking through, the pathway towards the library was lined with huge slices of redwood tree cut from a tree that had fallen on the property, poised just so upon large stumps or rocks, displayed in their glory for those who might want to bid on having one. What a lovely dining or picnic table they would make, or maybe a very cool bar in a mountain pub. The library is no bigger than a small bedroom….. make that a master, as it has a bathroom inside (along with two port-o bathrooms outside). Of course there were books to buy or sit and thumb through, old vinyl and turntable to play music, or maybe the piano in the corner for those with talents on the ivory. Oh, and don’t forget to look up, you’ll notice posters from past events, classic one-of-a-kind books dangling like christmas ornaments, or currency brought in from visitors from other locales, displayed proudly like national flags. They even have a few guitars laying around, a computer, and a typewriter, should you feel the need to pen a tune. Oh, and a resident kitty cat – gotta luv that!
The Library sure dresses up nice, with pretty string lights and colorful lanterns hanging above head creating ambiance; and well, they serve a good purpose when navigating the Library in the dark of the night, when all you have to guide is the light of the moon and stars. It is really a special space, not just due to it’s place in history or location in Big Sur, but there is just a creative energy there that something could, and will happen. You could feel it, the peace of the trees, the energy from the ocean waves off the coast, the soul of Henry Miller. He is still there. The band knows it. The venue knows it. The crowd knows it. Heck, the clear blue sky and the good doctor know it.
The gates opened about an hour or so before the show. The library was pouring beer and wine, but also cool enough to let you bring in your own goodies, should you choose, and, well, as long as ya clean up after yourself. DJ Ben Knight, spinning tunes, warming up our ears and keeping them well pleased until it was time for the band to hit the stage. It was really a laid back evening, getting back to nature, appreciation of the small, meaningful things. Yeah, try to get that out of a stadium.
The band hit the stage about 7:20 p.m, for the start of what would be a very intimate weekend. Only a few feet off the ground and surrounded only by the monitors, those up by the stage probably felt like they were playing in their backyard, for them. I look up and instantly see a bright beam of joy from Chris, as he looks out over the crowd and maybe sees a familiar face, or hears someone say hello, or maybe he’s just looking up at the trees and feeling what we are – a feeling of great happiness.
Opening the first set with, “Beggar’s Moon”, which starts out with Adam softly on the keys….. then George and Muddy take it over, starting the night with “back beats, ma’ma, making ya feel alright, grooving it loose, when I’m gettin’ too tight.” It’s got this funky strut, easy to move to, in time with the beat of your heart in the center of your being. Maybe even a little southern flavor, referring to show boat queens, feeling good, filling pipes and dancing all night, down in New Orleans. It wasn’t too much longer that we noticed that the crescent moon had been called up from the ocean. Answering, it slowly rose up through the trees and shined it’s light upon us, red Mars near by, giving an even more magical feel to the night.
In a brief moment between songs, I hear Adam tap a few of the keys, maybe it was closer to a rub or wiggle, warming up that distinctive sound that is “Shore Power” – right on! The opening tune on their newest release (“Phosphorescent Harvest”, which JBO was happy to review prior to it’s release on April 29. Did you get your decoder ring?), I kind of am in love with the ending, with it’s very east coast vibe, and I’m not just refering to some of the lyrics. There is a different vibe to the east coast as compared to the laid back west coast – no holding back, abrupt and to the friggin’ point.
You can tell the difference between Neal and Chris’s playing, each to his own height. Whether playing lead or holding the rhythm, there is a gel to it, a circular feel to the back-n-forth, as they follow each other around the sun. This is definitely a funk-rock outfit, but they can take you on a ride down to the south, where the jazz is robust; or maybe on a trip to Texas for some trippy boogie-woogie; or a little east for some Memphis gospel harmony or americana blues; then head north to Chicago or Detroit for some soulful goodness; and don’t forget to head west, on the phosphorescent highway, and let your mind and spirit experience the psychedelic space of San Francisco in the 60’s and 70’s.
Blending voices, together Chris, Neal, Adam and Mark (Muddy) do create some beautiful harmonies. The sweetness of their blended voices, low, mid, high and grit – each one together creates a warmth, soothing you, moving you back and forth like a tall redwood tree in the breeze. I’m thinking of “Reflections of a Broken Mirror”. Love the mood of this song, this love song. “Well my baby loves me like an auto-harp, you see she plucks my mind and she strums my heart; We’re both victims of gravity, She’ll never fly away from me…. Well you can tell by looking, that I’m not like the rest. Sometimes a broken mirror, reflects back on the best….. Oooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooohhhh.” So, close your eyes for a minute and imagine this song, in this place, by this band, with this crowd, amongst the trees, and the sunset and the ocean breeze….. Oooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooohhhh is so very right….. And can’t forget the harmonizing in “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”, an old song written by Danny O’Keefe (1970-ish). Not a very long song, just a few verses lasting a few minutes, but those few minutes are warm and soulful.
I’d like to break-down the jam between “Tuff Mama” and “Tulsa Yesterday”, but I’m not sure I would be descriptively able. Nope – but I will try. I was lost in the heavens. Chris leads this little extended jam, his guitar is daring you to go to the top of the tallest tree, dangle on the edge… he might even nudge you in the back, with the neck of the guitar, encouraging you further out. Risky as it may, you do it, because you know Neal has hold to the back of your shirt, being sure not to let you fall, even though you are scared you might. You extend your arms out wide and trust them to take you where they need you to go with them. It was played with conviction, for lack of better words; it was funky, jammy, heady, psychedelic, visual, definitely contained a whole lot of atmosphere. This may sound silly to some, but remembering this jam again, I kind of got a bit emotional. Yeah, to me, it was that awesome. And, come on, we fans of this jam scene…. this is what we seek, right? It’s not just going to see a band perform a few of your favorite songs, but going for the experience of what could happen, the openness of it, the experimentation of the music and where it might go. My sister used to ask me, back in the day when I was traveling and spending all my cash on touring with the Grateful Dead. “Don’t they play the same songs, over and over? How come you need to see them so many times, when they just play the same songs?” It’s OK. Some don’t “get it”, and I am fine with that. More tickets for those of us who do.
OK, so back to this feeling, this space in my head that I don’t want to leave….. They come down out of this jam the same way they brought you up – excited anticipation for the next conscious note. You fly down through the branches, following the long redwood tree trunk down to the bottom, to the roots and the earth, right into “Tulsa Yesterday”. Neal brought you back from the edge, Chris drives you back down to the solid earth, from that trippy space in the clear blue sky, to the comfort of the Library tucked inside the back woods. There is a vibration to the sound from the stage, it has depth and warmth, and it lingers on and circles around you, like a warm blanket, taking you to “Tulsa”. After that double-whammy jammy, I hear an exasperation from a Freak to my left, a long sigh, as if they had just realized they were floating on the notes and had made it back down to earth for a rest. I couldn’t agree more.
A feeling there would be room somewhere for a “Saturday Night in Big Sur” – it opened the second set in a rockin’ blues way, set the tone and mood deserving of that outdoor venue. I’m a fan of the blues for sure. I love that sound you get when two guitars play the same lick, just in different keys – makes for a little heady groove to your rock and roll evening. And it’s the way Neal’s guitar sings along with Chris’s vocals (wha-nah-nah nah nah-nah nah-nah nah nuh-naow), held together by a jumpin’ beat out of Adam, Muddy and George – sometimes I can’t tell who is making the deepest hit, Adam or Muddy! Adam, filling in each space between it all – Neal and Chris, Muddy and George – watching them all, waiting to see where he can place a note, a vibe, an echo, an electrified giggle….. it just all works so damn well.
And what would fit perfectly? Maybe a “Little Lizzie Mae” for ya – that sound from the south, starting out in the dank and dirty swamplands, stomping around in the mud, before it moves on over to the cobblestone streets for a touch of jazz in the jam. Some of the bass lines Muddy puts out, reminded me of my Dad, who was also played the big stings in the rhythm section of a blues-jazz band called, The Player’s Club. He used to practice down in our bass-ment (ba-dum-chhhhh), and I have very physical memories of the rumble of the floor boards beneath my feet, kind of like the thunder Muddy gives you. If you stand still enough, anchor yourself to the ground like the bass does to the song, you can feel your clothes vibrate……
“Clear Blue Skies & The Good Doctor” makes me want to play a slide whistle….. Or maybe play one of those mouth harps. I recently saw one in a record store, should have bought it. But really just a perfect Big Sur song, with it’s americana rhythm, story-teller lyrics, and the ending……. oh the ending……… lifts your spirit to the rising sun, floating up through the tree, soaring over the ocean waves like an albatross catching the wind….. that must be “The Good Doctor” part of the song…… cuz whatever they injected in our veins with this song, sure made my mind float on a morphine cloud.
From blues, to jazz, to psychedelic space jam, the second set really covered it all, filling every head space in the crowd with euphoria. From the lightness of “Vibration & Light Suite”, which was another of those very spacey, jazzy, but psychedelically driven, songs that stretches out to somewhere… jeez and Adam rips it on the keys, the funk and foolery he congers up takes over your groove and drives you down some crazy, twisting highway….. (side note: my friend walks by me and says, “don’t break anything” concerned I might dance something off!!!) OK, where was I….. oh yes, from this insane (I mean that, with every letter of the word, this song is nuts, for about 15 crazy, spacial, jazzy, rippin’, rockin’ minutes – yes, you read it right, 15 minutes…) jazz to funk to blues to, “I Ain’t Hiding”, a Crowes song that has a familiar funky, dare I say disco-ish, strut and feel – “if you do this shit, you gotta own it!” as my friend says.
I gotta just say, love the two-fer encore, both rockin covers, done up CRB-way. Love the way they kill, “Got Love if You Want It” by harmonica blues master Slim Harpo. Its bluesy, swampy, and dirty, but in a good way.
What a Saturday night…… Damn. The space inside the HMML to the space in your head to the outter space in the vast sky – the trees, the spirit of the library, the moon, the stars and Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Synchronicity. Oh man – and we get one more!!!!! Is the air getting’ thinner or are we getting high???? Maybe both, but that’s alright by me.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, Saturday, May 3
Set 1: Beggar’s Moon, Shore Power, Tomorrow Blues, Reflections on a Broken Mirror, Tuff Mama>Jam> Tulsa Yesterday, Star or Stone, Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go!
Set 2: Saturday Night in Big Sur, Little Lizzie Mae, Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor, Never Been to Spain, Vibration & Light Suite, I Ain’t Hiding, Rosalee E. Good Time Charlie, Got Love if You Want It
Then there was the Sunday afternoon tea-time show, getting to take another beautiful ride down the coast, back to that tiny spot under the trees, where imagination drove creation, where words flowed like the river… like music running through your veins. Until now, I hadn’t realized just how actually perfect it is that CRB plays at the HMML (acronym time!!). Henry Miller, as we know, was an American writer known for, well, not really conforming to the writing style of his time (beginning in late 20’s/early 30’s). He created a literary cocktail for the reader, a blend of character study, societal conditions, philosophy, free association, mysticism, distinctly about and expressive of real-life, and yet, also leaning towards fictional. Miller ended up a major influence on the beat generation, being he was considered a bit of an “outlaw writer.” The writing style of the Brotherhood, of Robinson and Casal together (penned all but two of the songs on the new disc), can liken to what Miller was going for. This Brotherhood brew is a unique blend of similar ingredients (Oh, and that is actually a current brew from Anchor Steam Brewery, I will include more on that in a bit), creating a full flavor of colorful stories filled with a lot of mystical herbs and philosophical spices – I mean look at the song titles, “Beggar’s Moon”, “Burn Slow”, “Meanwhile in the Gods….”, “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor”, “Vibration & Light Suite”, “Star or Stone”, “Reflections on a Broken Mirror”, and of course, “About a Stranger” or “Wanderer’s Lament”…….. I could go on.
It’s about the small batches. The connection you feel to the special moments in life. Appreciation for the taste you get to have, whatever that taste is, no matter how big or small. There is a theme to this CRB tour and intimate, meaningful, and maybe even soulful spaces are where they are opting to play, when they can find these special 300 person locales that don’t like to oversell, like Terrapin Crossroads up in San Rafael (Phil Lesh’s house), or the Henry Miller Memorial Library, or Pappy and Harriet’s out in Pioneer Town, near Joshua Tree. This is why people came from so far to this show in Big Sur, where the ocean meets the shore (so let it be forever more); and, I’m not just talking from the West Coast, but from the Midwest and the East Coast. Not all shows on this tour are at these intimate spaces, so catch one if you can.
What’s that saying, “never miss a Sunday show.” Yeah, well, never miss a Sunday show in Big Sur. Heck, never miss a “Saturday Night in Big Sur” for that matter, either (wink). The website claimed doors would open at 2:30, with show time scheduled for 4:20 (which the show actually started a tad after the scheduled start, because, well, you know……..) That’s a sweet two hours for basking on the lawn, in the sun or under the shade of a redwood, spending time with family and friends, drinking that beer or wine or whatever… and the band was hanging out too, sitting around tables, enjoying the laid back scene and hanging with Freaks before the show. How cool is that? And, the Library didn’t try to end the night as soon as the band left the stage. The DJ spun some killer tunes (I still can’t get Sly and the Family Stone’s, “Spaced Cowboy” outta my head…. “Everything I like is nice.?That’s why I try to have it twice, yodel-ayde-eeeeee”), the beer kept flowing, the party extended for a while longer, well after the last note on stage. Gosh, I love this place.
For a special treat, we got Muddy opening the set with “Atlantis”. What did Chris say, “Only a true poet can wear pants like that. And he’s got soul.” If you’re gonna cover Donovan, well, do Donovan. It was a great opener, very poetic and lyrical, a story told to soothing music, again, fitting for the space we were in, and Muddy hit every word, accent and all. “Knowing her fate, Atlantis sent out ships to all corners of the Earth. On board were the Twelve: The poet, the physician, The farmer, the scientist, The magician and the other so-called Gods of our legends…….. Let us rejoice, And let us sing, And dance and ring in the new Hail Atlantis! Way down, by the ocean, where I wanna be, she may be.” So, if Muddy is the poet, then Neal must be the physician – his guitar provides musical healing; George the farmer – well, he’s the driver, keeping the machine going along steadily; Chris the scientist – setting out to develop a an understanding of it all; the spiritual, the physical, the social… but more of a natural philosopher, including some intangibles for the listener’s ears; which leaves Adam as the magician or wizard – with slight of hand he stretches the sounds and creates musical illusions. Fits.
First set Sunday had that afternoon acoustic sunshine feel, nothing too hard on the ears, soothing guitars, sun shining through the notes. A laid back family day at the HMML, lots of mammas and daddies with kiddies in colorful headphones dancing on the lawn. Smooth americana story-teller songs, the notes floated on the breeze, the words dangled around your head like the lanterns, infusing brightness through your imagination. “About a Stranger”, “Tornado”, “Roll Old Jeremiah” and “Meanwhile in the Gods….”, fitting in with the roots-rock, folklore, distinctively discovery music. Being away too long, road nailed to your feet, trying to find time between tomorrows, trying not to feel like a stranger when you come back home from being somewhere, maybe make believe. And, “Tornado” has such a good smooth groove, easy to move to, a little space magic tossed in from Adam, as you sit down next to the window and watch the tornado….. and it’s all held together with a little sticky funk in the pocket, thanks to George and Muddy. I’m really diggin’ on this song.
Second set started out pure, clap your hands and stomp your feet rock-n-roll with, well, “Try Rock & Roll” and then, the powerful rock of “Shore Power”, or the changes and jams they throw to the sky with “Vibration & Light Suite”. The theme for the second set was played heavier, as if CRB wanted to leave something behind at the Library, to give thanks and respect to the spirit of Henry Miller.
There were the sweet moments to taste, giving you a soft breather in between the more powerful moments. A little sweet tribute to Jerry, with “They Love Each Other” or the soulful voice and harmonizing in “Appaloosa”, providing a moment to dream your day away…… or, listen to the “Sunday Sound” that lovers make, backed by that CRB cosmic soulful goodness. “Well, I’d like to dance with you, as the band plays on. I’d like to talk with you, ’till dawn. We’ll make the Sunday sound, both loud and clear, make the Sunday sound, that love’s here…..” This one get’s a little Adam touch, backed by George keeping the solid beat, as it moves from a soulful song to this funky, deep rhythm that only a magician can conger up. Then Muddy joins in, Chris picks up the tambourine to add some shake and rattle. Then, with a solid purpose, almost simultaneously all hitting firm notes to get us right back to the groove of the tune.
Hold up. Step back. People get ready. “Ride” – came out of “Vibration” rather smoothly, came up on me before I knew it. “Listen y’all, rid yourself of disbeliefs. Become a star, become a seeker, that love show you the way. You know somewhere the bells are ringing, people dancing, people singing. Bring it on, the golden day; and, if you’re willing, you can join them. Just close your eyes, and let the song take you away…..” right on. From the mid-point to the confirming end, this song rages at 100 miles an hour. If you close your eyes, you feel like maybe you are on the back of a motorcycle, make it a Harley, wind in your face as you take the hairpin turns faster than the warning signs suggest. Willing to take a risk for the ride. And then, the song gets a little quiet, as Chris chants, “People get ready, to ri-ide” – then, the sound hits you like a brick, deep into your funky soul, some heaviness out of Adam and Muddy – this is where I can’t tell who is hitting what, but, it doesn’t really matter. I look up at the stage and see Neal, arms laid back from the guitar, looking over at Adam and just egging him on, higher. The entire place is vibrating, echoing, soaring, swaying, feeling each heavy, purposeful chord/note/beat/whatever you might ride. Shit. Someone leans in and asks me what I’m on. What am I’m on? I’m on a RIDE.
CRB now has three studio and one live album, they have plenty of songs in the repertoire to fill Royal Albert Hall (OK, maybe not, maybe the Great American Music Hall or something….), so I love it when they still cover the classics, the good one’s, the rare one’s, the secret stash, the creations nurtured in small batches. One of my fav covers that day was “Love’s Made a Fool of You”, a Buddy Holly cover, so Buddy, so very Buddy Holly. Songs like this make me think of my brother in-law, a huge fan of Buddy for sure, a musician in his own right. Funny, I hadn’t heard CRB do this one in the past, but it was familiar to me as I’m sure I’ve heard it spinning on my brother in-law’s turn-table before. My other was the “Poor Elijah/Robert Johnston Tribute” from the acoustically driven late 60’s duo, Delany and Bonnie, ’bout a hard-working man who lived his life through before his song was fully sung…. a tribute to Robert Johnson, born in Mississippi, dirt-poor, and learned to play the delta blues on street corners and jook joints, and recording 29 songs between 1936 and 1937, and then died a year later. “It keeps on getting better every day, and maybe someday soon, people will say, ain’t no body here, but good people….. Just drinking that wine and loving in slow motion…” Work on Elijah, work on.
Giving another two-fer encore, the end to the day’s theme was as the start, rolling and rambling along, maybe a little notion as we all head back up or down that coastal highway. “Badlands Here We Come”, a little foreshadow for the next gig up on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Taking that stretch of highway up the mountain, passing through taller trees, climbing higher to the stars. Ending the show with, “Like a Tumbleweed in Eden”, rolling over and through, laying it down to a meaningful rest, taking you all the way home.
Chris returns to the mic and says something like, “This… [Center] …is the coolest gig in the world. We’re glad you spent it with us.” Oh, believe me, it was our pure pleasure.
Earlier on, I hinted to getting a special taste of the new brew from Anchor Steam, called, Brotherhood Steam. I had friends who went to the first few shows and had seen a picture of the tap at Terrapin, so, being a bit of a beer drinker, and a fan of Anchor Steam, I was looking forward to a taste that weekend. This beer is not yet in distribution so if you want a taste, you have to go to a CRB show to get it. I walk up to the “bar” at the HMML and…… NO!!! They don’t have any? I ask why? The guy says, with a smile, “They didn’t have enough for these (HMML) shows. I guess the folks at Terrapin drank a lot of it!” Frown….. But, my frown was turned upside down as knowing someone who knows someone, I got treated to a secret stash. Now, I’m a music writer, not a food or beverage critic, so bear with me. I think the first thing that I said was, “Mmmmmmm. I want to make that taste last a little longer.” OK, maybe I was hinting for a refill (didn’t work), but really, it was yummy! There was a solid burst of flavor on my first sip, that lingered in a good way. It has a very beautiful amber color with a warm glow, like a sunset reflecting on the sky on a hot day. A crisp taste, with maybe a hint of citrus, not super hoppy, full but not too bold, with a mild floral aroma like springtime in the redwoods that you can get from the care and nurturing of the small batch “dry hopped” brew. They definitely put some Brotherly love into it. I’m sure hope this brew gets bottled, or they brew a whole lot more so I can grab another at my next show.
This tour so far (as we are just getting started), this Hallucination Nation was treated to a blend of familiar and new, but even the new was familiar to a point. Well, some tunes have been tossed out upon the crowd to taste already, but these people ain’t called Freaks for nuthin ya know. We Freaks are freaking ON IT, and pretty sure we all had listened to the new disc more than once before the weekend began. And, if you don’t have it yet, go on and get it. You want that glow ring too? Well you better bust your move, cuz that bling is limited and won’t be available for long.
So, Chuck Lore anyone? Producer of sitcoms, has some funny “Lore-isms” he uses at the end of an episode – know it? So, watching a re-run of “The Big Bang Theory” the day after the Sunday show, I see #380 pop on the screen:
“As my eyesight dims,
I see things more clearly.
As my hearing fades,
the music becomes more beautiful.
As my mind withers,
the memories —
Hey, whatever happened to Alan Funt?
His name always made me giggle.”
Except I might replace the last two lines with, “Hey, did you happen to hear Adam MacDougall? His magic always makes me giggle.”
The Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, Sunday, May 4
Set 1: Atlantis, About a Stranger, Tornado, Roll Old Jeremiah> Love’s Made a Fool of You, Meanwhile in the Gods, 100 Days of Rain, Poor Elijah/Robert Johnson Tribute
Set 2: Try Rock & Roll, Shore Power, They Love Each Other, Jump the Turnstile, Vibration & Light> Ride, Appaloosa, Sunday Sound E. Badlands Here We Come, Like a Tumbleweed in Eden