The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s appearance at The Rusty Nail on June 4th was notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it constituted the first big-name show at the Stowe venue since booking began there through Nectar’s earlier in 2014.
But it was an even more memorable performance as it proved CRB can accomplish on stage what they’ve done in the recording studio three times running: build on a solid foundation of original material with musicianship as adventurous as it is purposeful. The ebb and flow of the two sets, together and apart, was readily discernible during the course of the evening,
Fully in a flow about thirty minutes into their performance after a rousing natural opening of “Let’s Go Let’s Go,” the quintet then strung together a handful of tunes that gained their own internal dynamics through the leader’s flourishes on guitar, combined with Adam MacDougall’s keyboards. MacDougall’s instrumental contributions cemented the sound of the ensemble, reaffirming the erstwhile co-leader of The Black Crowes abiding kinship with the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh in the meaningful way the sequence of chosen songs told a story.
A clutch of selections from CRB’s latest record Phosphorescent Harvest again featured MacDougall’s instruments even more prominently, but also, unfortunately applied equivalence to songs such as “Beggar’s Moon.” It was no coincidence that when MacDougall turned to electric piano, even more so than on clavinet, he galvanized the band. Drummer George Sluppick was easygoing but authoritative all night while bassist Mark Dutton’s playing became more taut at various intervals, invariably in response to the man encircled by his instruments across the stage.
It’s a credit to The Chris Robinson Brotherhood that they never really call to mind the namesake’s history with the Crowes except deliberately. “Little Lizzie Mae,” “The Last Place that Love Lives” and “Appaloosa” all derive from the group’s sessions at Levon Helm’s Barn in 2009 (Before the Frost…Until The Freeze) and the latter demonstrated how the harmony singing of Dutton, MacDougall and guitarist Neal Casal, while not fancy by any means, adds to the propulsion at the heart of this band’s music.
Casal distinguished himself with guitar soloing, taking a precise approach to fingering the notes that recalls Jerry Garcia without aping the late leader of the Grateful Dead. And when the former sideman of Ryan Adams pulled out the slide for a cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Poor Elijah,” he further impressed with his restraint. The one other cover of the night, a wry take on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Older Guys” that closed the show, found Casal and Robinson locked together on rhythm guitar, action that implicitly referenced their experience together and apart.
Apart from heartfelt thanks to the audience (which filled the lower level of The Nail and left plenty of room on the upper level and on its outside porch), deadpan comments on ‘woodland creatures’ and ‘bringing earthquakes from California’ was the only spoken repartee Chris Robinson offered throughout the approximately three hours he spent on stage with his group. But he certainly reasserted the statement of independence the formation of his aptly named Brotherhood represents, so this latest Vermont visit (he was here with the Black Crowes last August at Waterfront Park in Burlington) augurs well for his continued creativity and for the venerable location at which it took place.
Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go (Hank Ballard and The Midnighters cover)
About a Stranger
Meanwhile In The Gods
Little Lizzie Mae (The Black Crowes cover)
Appaloosa (The Black Crowes cover)
Clear Blue Skies & The Good Doctor
Serves Me Right To Suffer
Vibration & Light Suite
Ride (Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud cover)
The Last Place That Love Lives (The Black Crowes cover)
Girl I Love You (Eddie Floyd cover)
Older Guys (The Flying Burrito Brothers cover)