This past May Blues Rock Review covered Chris Robinson’s other band, “As the Crow Flies,” so we wanted to check out his primary project, “The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which hit Portland, Oregon on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at Revolution Hall. While “As the Crow Flies” played many Black Crowes tunes, “The Brotherhood,” obviously had its own agenda. That was apparent from the beginning when you entered the venue and saw before you, unfurled as the backdrop of the stage, the legendary “Freak Flag,” that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang about at Woodstock, and on their 1970, Déjà Vu album. The motto or slogan that Portlander’s espouse is “keep Portland Weird,” which translates into letting their freak flag fly.
The opening song of the night was “New Cannonball Rag,” from 2016’s If You Lived Here You Would Be Home By Now, a Grateful Dead sounding composition that established the “Deadhead” connection from the onset. Lead guitarist, Neal Casal was almost a dead ringer for Jerry Garcia in his prime wearing a striped T-shirt and one of his guitars was even shaped like one of Doug Irwin’s custom made models that sounded eerily similar to Captain Trips. The most obvious visual difference between “As The Crow Flies” and the Brotherhood is the fact that Robinson played guitar during the entire show rather than dancing with the microphone stand. The sonic difference was obvious as well in the choice of songs.
The band played two sets comprised of eight songs each that were over an hour long, with a twenty minute break in between. Each song was a sonic excursion into musical variations ranging from psychedelic hard rock to blues rock and country rock. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall led the musical direction on a number of songs beginning with “Tomorrow Blues” from CBD’s 2012 debut album, Big Moon Ritual. The rest of the first set was comprised of “About A Stranger” and “Clear Blue Sky” off 2014’s Phosphorescent Harvest along with “Blue Star Woman” from CRB’s most recent release, 2017’s Barefoot In the Head. The first set ended with Hoyt Axton’s 1971 composition that became a hit for 3 Dog Night in 1972, “Never Been To Spain.” “Well, I’ve never been to heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma,” Robinson sang as Casal went wild on guitar and MacDougall jammed up a storm.
The second set began at 11:00 PM and the band immediately jumped into a couple of numbers from their 2014 release, the psychedelic sounding Phosphorescent Harvest. MacDougall led off with sassy sounding keyboards on “Jump the Turnstile” as the band began to take it to the next level. They must have smoked some good weed and drank a case of “Rockstar,” because their musical energy level increased exponentially, along with tighter performing and greater clarity in Robinson’s voice. “Meanwhile In The Gods” was another psychedelic excursion with Robinson singing with crystal clear clarity as his voice hit its peak.
“Crash On the Levee,” a cover from Bob Dylan & the Band’s Basement Tapes followed as Robinson’s voice took on a ragged sound, while drummer Tony Leone began to beat time, creating an interesting rhythm as MacDougall led off with Casal and Robinson playing off each other’s guitar, with bassist Jeff Hill cementing it all together with his thumping bass. All the band members joined in singing harmony together in call and response to compliment Robinson’s lead. It was a completely mesmerizing transcendent jam. “Good To Know” was another tune from their last album and Casal was at his peak playing beautiful clear clean guitar notes as Robinson danced while playing rhythm. At one point Casal and Robinson stood next to each other playing their guitars together until Casal took off with a meteoric solo. That segued into “Narcissus Soaking Wet” from 2016’s Anyway You Love Me We Know How You Feel.
The band was tight and each member was unique in their own right, as musicians and performers as they blended together for their sonic excursions. “Burn Slow” from Phosphorescent Harvest was an ethereal song that had Casal and Robinson creating mellow echoing guitar sounds to the repetitive lyrics that they once again sang in gospel style of call and response, “Burn slow (Burn slow), Burn Slow…”. The final song of the set was “Behold the Seer” from Barefoot In the Head, immediately followed by the encore farewell song “Relax Your Mind.”
Review by Bob Gersztyn