Chris Robinson used to be the frontman of the now defunct Black Crowes, known for the singles “Hard to Handle,” “Twice as Hard” and “She Talks to Angels.” Only one of these songs — “Hard to Handle” — was performed on Saturday night. Clearly Mr. Robinson isn’t a man who likes to waddle in his own past. His music however does live in a previous time. The Brotherhood is probably most often compared to The Grateful Dead. This makes sense, considering a 15-minute song is normal for them but, especially when they make use of vocal harmonies, I think they have more in common with The Band than the Dead. Regardless of whichever comparison you decide to go with, their unhurried songs beckon you to live at a slower tempo and truly take in the moment.
The Black Crowes sold out venues far larger than The Chop Shop but watching Chris play, grinning randomly during songs and taking swigs from his bottle of booze, you get the feeling he prefers a more intimate setting. He’s there FOR the audience and gives and a crowd what they pay for, and then some. [Unfortunately, this is an attitude which isn’t always present in others who rose to rock stardom in the ‘90s. I’m looking at you Billy Corgan.] And perhaps the audience continues to show up for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood because they realize it isn’t really a rehash of the Crowes but rather the next stage of evolution in Robinson’s artistry.
Hopefully I’m not making this sound like it is nothing more than a vehicle for Robinson. No, it’s a real full-fledged band with each member serving an essential piece of the puzzle. Two parts of the jigsaw stood out in particular: Adam MacDougall and Neal Casal. MacDougall knows how to lay down a sweet motherfucker of a psychedelic solo on the keyboard. As for guitarist Casal, he never gets super flashy. Obviously he is a man of great technical skill but his playing is tasteful and always serves the song. He frequently opted out of moments that many a musician would have used for showboating and led the songs in directions I didn’t expect.
The Brotherhood is the real deal. They played for eighty minutes and took a forty-five minute break. Excessive perhaps but then they came back out to play for around an hour and a half. If you’re into jam bands — and I am usually not, they’re an exception for me — you will get your money’s worth. My only hope, for the future of their songwriting, is that Robinson will incorporate more moments for his soulful voice to shine. I will go as far as saying that they are indeed the better band than the Black Crowes. But a lyrical moment on par with “She Talks to Angels” would be nice now and then. That’s my one and only gripe. Check them out next time they come to your town. They make time slow down in the best possible way.
See them on tour: