An up-and-down evening with the former front man for the Black Crowes
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is still trying to determine its place in the 21st century. Their style is undoubtedly 1970s, their attitude is very 1990s, and the jury is still out on where their sound fits in.
The Brotherhood’s two-set performance Saturday night, Oct. 15, at The Westcott Theater was a tale of two bands: One was a lethargic country blues group seemingly bored with itself. The other cranked through raging rock tunes sporting toothy grins and exchanging self-satisfied glances. Unfortunately, a happy middle-ground was never reached between the two.
Most notable in Chris Robinson’s latest team of musicians was a lack of chemistry. While the five-piece group occasionally clicked for some onstage magic, the majority of the show was doused in melancholy. The issue of bad chemistry is nothing new to Robinson, whose career and personal life have been wrought with conflict since he made it big with the Black Crowes in the early 1990s.
Robinson and his brother, Rich, founded the Crowes in 1984. By the time their sophomore album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (Def American Records) was released in 1992, the group was a household name.
Infighting between the brothers and high turnover among other band members vexed the band. In 2002, after nearly two decades of ups and downs, they decided it was time for a break. The hiatus came shortly after Robinson embarked upon his second marriage, to the lovely Kate Hudson. It lasted six years, four longer than his first marriage to Lala Sloatman.
Try as he might, it seems the 44-year-old rocker is battling to move beyond his troubled past. He has been eager to redefine his career with The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, not only by surrounding himself with (mostly) new faces, but his music is also reflective of a much mellower state of mind.
Robinson’s group is comprised of fellow Crowes member Adam MacDougal on keyboards, Mark “Muddy” Dutton on bass, Neal Casal on guitar and George Sluppick on drums. Robinson takes the helm with vocals while Dutton and Macdougal share backup duties.
Fans who attended Saturday’s show hoping to reminisce with Black Crowes favorites were sorely disappointed. In lieu of the cutting guitar riffs and screeching vocals that characterized the Crowes, Robinson has adopted a folksy, Southern blues style. The band’s sound, along with members’ long hair, shaggy beards and 1970s retro attire, suggest a bizarre blend of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead.
The Brotherhood’s opening set was uncertain. Guitar solos seemed uninspired and transitions were loose and sloppy. Syracuse is the fifth stop on a 36-show tour, so the band may still be working out some kinks. While they struck gold with a few tunes, including a rocking cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” they seemed unwilling to let any of the songs grow legs. Instead, they dragged out a series of poorly paced blues ballads with stunted solos and heavy-handed keys.
Set two was full of the vitality and spirit missing in the first hour or so of the night. Following a brief set break, Robinson and Co. stormed back on stage around 11 p.m. seeming loose and confident. Early in the set they unleashed “Roll Old Jeremiah,” a Black Crowes song, which spiraled into a jubilant 12-minute frenzy of shredding guitar and syncopated keys. Finally, the Brotherhood was having fun.
They churned out several more Robinson originals before playing, “Ride,” off his 2002 solo album New Earth Mud (Redline Records), which was easily the highlight of the set. Robinson showed off his quick-tongued vocal abilities and the raspy edge that gained him acclaim with the Crowes.
Musically, the entire performance was solid. What the group lacks in charisma it more than makes up for with talent. With enough time and cooperation, the Brotherhood could evolve into a powerhouse touring act like the early Black Crowes. Given Robinson’s tumultuous past, however, such a fantasy is a bit hard to handle.
Editor’s Note: This review reflects the personal opinion of reviewer, Chris Baker. Please feel free to share your opinion of the show by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for a post containing your comments within the coming weeks.