It’s hard to believe that this was the Magpie Salute’s third trip to New York this year. After all, they just started playing as a bad at the Gramercy Theatre in January. By their summer tour, they’d gelled and opened up their setlists. Now, as they finish off a year of touring, they returned to Manhattan as a far more finished project. Rich Robinson has revealed that the band plans to release a double studio album in 2018. Right before the first of two shows at Irving Plaza, it was also leaked that Chris Robinson plans to perform the songs he and his brother wrote at Wanee this year in “As The Crow Flies.”
Of course, Chris famously bashed Rich for being in a “Crowes cover band” on Howard Stern this May. Rich, who has always let his music do his talking, offered the perfect rebuttal the day before the first Irving Show. “to turn 180 degrees and just be a cover band with a B squad, it’s very hypocritical. But, he has every right to do that and if for whatever reason that he’s doing that, he has every right and I wish him well. At the end of the day, although there’s a glaring hypocrisy to the whole thing, he can do that and I wish him well. I’ve got Marc Ford.”
That last sentence says it all. Ford is the key to the Crowes sound. His work with Rich on guitar is the foundation. But the Magpie Salute is less like a cover band than a traveling revue that celebrates not only the best parts of the Black Crowes but all of their influences. Wednesday night November 15th they hit the stage with a joyous “Sting Me” followed by “Greasy Grass River.” The latter song is an interesting choice since the band has been playing a lot of Crowes songs that came both before Ford’s two tours of duty and after. The material from 2001’s Lions has been getting a real nice reimagination with this band. “Exit,” a fantastic nugget the Crowes never recorded in the studio, was an early highlight. It was clear that John Hogg has really been learning the catalog as he seemed extremely confident with the vocals. “Omission,” a Magpie original, seems like a great hint of what this band will do next. It sounds like it could have been on the aforementioned Lions, with some great Beatlesy harmonies.
Ford’s “Smoke Signals,” off his Weary and Wired album was fantastic as always. It’s eerily reminiscent of Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” but it’s taken on a whole new depth with everyone in the band kicking in on it. For a song that has that great Crazy Horse looseness, the band has added some real punch to it. Rich Robinson, looking like a Nashville Skyline-era Bob Dylan, mentioned that the band enjoys all kinds of music and would, therefore, do a Gram Parsons mini-set. That’s just his dry sense of humor. But the Crowes were always big fans of Parsons and the Burrito Brothers. The acoustic “She” sounded great even w as did “Hot Burrito #2.” It was a real treat to hear Ford providing pedal steel-like fills on these songs.
“Descending” from the Crowes’ Amorica was a welcome gift. The piano that both introduces and ends the song left everyone in the audience missing Eddie Harsch. After the tune, Rich suggested that Eddie was indeed up there listening. The Magpie Salute continues to give life to even the most obscure Crowes outtakes and their second New York performance of “Miserable” was no exception. If you’ve never heard the song, there is a nice soundboard of one of its few public outings from Charlottesville in 1990. Like “Exit” and “Title Song,” which would also be performed on Wednesday, it’s one of their greatest songs. “She Gave Good Sunflower” provided some blazing guitar work by Ford and Robinson. Argentina’s Nico Bereciartua, incidentally, is no slouch on additional guitar.“Black Coffee,” made semi-famous by Humble Pie, let John Hogg really show off his voice. Ford’s “Shining Again” sounded great with contributions from the entire band as did Robinson’s “I Know You.”
The homestretch featured some nice versions of more late-era Crowes. “Walk Believer Walk” was nice and slinky and “Horsehead” reminded the crowd of what a good album Lions was. But with Marc Ford back in the fold, it was that much better. “Sometimes Salvation” finished things off with a bang. It’s been a pleasure to see two great guitarists escape the chaos of the Crowes and get back to enjoying playing. It will be equally satisfying to see what happens when they get into the studio and combine their underrated songwriting skills: 2018 should be fun.