Call it ear-gasmic sonic science, like being wrapped in whisky-soaked cotton wool blanket of classic Americana – the superlatives escape me but you would be very remiss not to catch the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB) as soon as you can – a phenomenal band which was on fire at Amsterdam’s Paradiso last Thursday night.
The CRB don’t so much set the bar for jam bands today as completely re-define it – nightly, brilliantly and relentlessly. Such musical chemistry among mere mortals must leave the Brotherhood feeling oddly detached when not on stage together, such is the degree to which these guys live, breath and channel their respective instruments. With a two-part show format and no support, CRB pile through a terrific value-for-money three hour set during which Robinson repeatedly challenges the band to hit new heights of delirium and intensity which often seem to leave the band staring in awe at each other wondering “how did we just do that ?”…..and then thinking “let’s see if we can do it again”.
And to think that with the Crowes never-the-same-twice set-list ethos, CRB must have between 50-100 songs slick and live-ready on any given day…..that’s class.
Opening with the delicious Delaney Bramlett cover “Hello L.A. Bye Bye Birmingham”, the interplay between members of the band is mesmerizing, simultaneously free-form and then gradually re-aligning back into the structure but never gratuitous, always with purpose, always heading down meandering pathways and avenues just to see what’s down there, often finding a jammed out pot of gold, sometimes realizing it’s a cul-de-sac, reversing back down together and heading off in a new direction, regularly clocking up 13/14 minute songs but always with an adventurous “what’s behind this door” approach.
Not being quite of mature enough years to have seen the Dead in their heyday, I can only imagine this is exactly what they were like. Musicians with a blank canvas only sporadically contained by verse and chorus – you’d almost say CRB are nerdy if they weren’t so damn cool. Tipping the hat with faithful renditions of Dylan (“She Belongs To Me”), The Coasters (“I’m A Hog For You”), The Dead (“West L.A. Fadeaway”), J.J. Cale (“After Midnight” and even a li’l old band called The Black Crowes (“I Ain’t Hiding”), CRB are comfortable with slow and moody interpretation on a low tempo Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and even, in parts, almost Jethro Tull like in the jam on “Like A Tumbleweed in Eden” (although maybe that was my contact high in the beautifully appropriate Paradiso surroundings).
With more jam than an LA freeway, the band is visually as well as sonically compelling and accomplished – keyboardist Adam MacDougall (who featured on the Crowes’ Warpaint album) gurns and pulls sex faces throughout, channeling his professorial wizardry, respecting the space between the notes but at the same time almost constantly soloing and tinkering – like how Keith Moon might have played keys, busy but precise – alternately subtle then dominating.
Guitarist and something of a Renaissance Man-photographer, Neil Casal drives the band and caresses the neck through sleazy slide, tear-inducing blues licks and sludgy swamp riffs. Check out his work with Hard Workin’ Americans if you haven’t already.
With a band like CRB – feral, far-out, hippy, trippy and vocally honey-drippy – self-expression makes a mockery of any perceived musical boundaries and the bass and drums (Mark Dutton and Tony Leone respectively) get little chance to individually shine but lay down the perfect bottom end, holding everything down like gravity whilst guitar and keys strain at the leashes of creativity, threatening to pull the whole band of traveling minstrels skyward into the stratosphere. Highlights from the band’s own repertoire included “Reflections on a Broken Mirror”, “Rosalee” and the epic “Vibration and Light Suite” but honestly, these guys could jam out ringtones and read the yellow pages and make it sound fascinating.
The audio equivalent of “Dutch total football”, the CRB plays “musique sans frontieres” with Robinson as orchestrator and spiritual leader, clearly relishing post-Crowes life on the road. Don’t miss CRB at London’s KOKO on March 14th – do yourself and your ears a big favour !
Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw
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