On the evening of July 26th, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood played two celestial sets at the Stone Pony, the legendary Asbury Park music club known for launching the long illustrious career of Bruce Springsteen. It was a performance that showcased most of the material off their new release Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel and incorporated some originals off of their previous three studio albums. The band would end up playing a show much hotter than the room temperature, masterfully decorating Chris Robinson’s songs in electric psych-folk/rock & roll soul and the Stone Pony would prove itself as the worn-in venue that can make a great band sound greater.
The band opened set one with “Leave My Guitar Alone”, the lead off track on their new album, and the sort of barnburner made to be played in a room with such killer small-room acoustics and rock club rawness. Another new cut “Forever as the Moon” followed, a heavy and sweet delirium of a song, often-baring strong resemblance to the Rolling Stones’ “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”. The far-out folk of “Wheel Don’t Roll” rippled, twirled and tumbled, and a cover of Joe Tex’s “I Want To Do (Everything For You)” psychedelicized southern soul was dead on. “Star or Stone,” one of the first songs that the band ever played and has since become a live staple, rolled along unhurried and loose during verses and choruses, then dazzled when guitarist Neal Casal played a solo that soared to distant galaxies and back. The zany sway of “Meanwhile In the Gods…” trotted its way into a tornado of a jam, eventually dissipating into the swaggering “California Hymn”, the third and final new song in the first set. Grateful Dead-inspired jamming latched to the tail end of this ode to the Golden State, eventually making a slow mood-ring transition into the cosmic shuffle of “Beggar’s Moon” to close out the set.
Set two kicked off with “New Cannonball Rag” that concluded with Casal’s blazing guitar heroics and eventually keyboardist Adam MacDougall laying down a beautifully weird keyboard solo. “Oak Apple Day” merged pastoral imagery with neon glow and a touch of playful strangeness. The dream-like “Shadow Cosmos” could sound Dylanesque , circa the Woodstock days at Big Pink, recording The Basement Tapes with the Band.
An actual Bob Dylan cover followed with “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” in which the folk classic was given the CRB treatment, interpreted some laid back west coast grooving (and a little bar room funk, courtesy of drummer Tony Leone.) “Ain’t It Hard But Fair” delivered on windy hard luck soul and lunar blues, while a stellar version of “Shore Power” could leave one to wonder if it was powered by the Atlantic tides on the other side of the boardwalk.
The second set was capped off with two expansive, multi-movement pieces of music, “Vibration & Light Suite” and “Narcissus Soaking Wet”; the former a Hawkwind-like space rocker in a sonic coat of many colors, but always evocative of meteor showers and other astral happenings. The latter was a head-trip skip off of the new album and unlike anything else the CRB have put out on record, creeping along in a dark hypnotic funk groove and featuring a Stevie Wonder-ish harmonica breakdown from Chris Robinson at one point.
Dating back to his days in the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson’s admiration for Parsons could occasionally be channeled into the band’s performances, and on this particular night, the CRB would be his vessel to express such admiration, when the band returned to encore with a pair of Gram Parsons-era Byrds covers, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years From Now”, both played for the first time.
It’s been over five years since the band’s first show at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, and despite a couple of lineup changes, the CRB has steadily ventured forward as a live band and as recording artists. The Stone Pony performance revealed a band committed to pushing boundaries and breaking new ground with exciting new music and exploratory improvisational jamming. As always, there was an element of surprise to the night’s setlist. Chris Robinson has found himself another band to match his vivid imagination, proving that there is a whole ‘nother recording and touring career after The Black Crowes.