Robby Krieger and Rich Robinson, Viper Room, Los Angeles, CA – 8/17
Bands that have departed prematurely, and tragically, from the music scene but have remained rock legends are not likely to resurrect for a reunion show at the Viper Room. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s a small, over-crowded, albeit popular venue with no parking. However, L.A.’s Sunset Strip delivers that kind of religious experience if you’re lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. When we walked up, Rich Robinson was feeding his meter outside of the Viper Room below the marquee “Robbie Krieger and Rich Robinson.” No, not even rock stars get free parking in this town. It was time to shake him down about the evening’s upcoming set, so without hesitation, we introduced ourselves to Rich and drummer, Joe Magistro, who have been touring the states (and Euro festivals) with their new album Through a Crooked Sun.
Rich Robinson while less animated, even deadpan, on stage with the Black Crowes is always amiable and a bit of a raconteur in person. His lyrics and inspiration are emoted over a newfound balance and contentment in life, yet the music still bleeds the psychedelic jams fans crave. I requested a few of my favorite tracks when Rich admitted that he still had to write the set list at dinner and that Robbie wasn’t familiar with every song off of Crooked Sun. The converse was definitively not true for the rest of the band. The Doors music is core curriculum for musicians, so the audience could expect to hear the hits that have never faded into the distance. However, a 45-minute show can only temporarily satiate the hunger in the tight dark quarters filled with die-hard guitar enthusiasts and girls of Rock who seemed eager to catch a glimpse of Jim Morrison’s ghost.
It’s never been a mystery why The Doors or the Black Crowes have occupied the charts during their heyday. (The Doors still sell over a million albums a year, flying high over generations of newcomers.) However The Doors – Crowes synthesis wasn’t crystal clear to me before these multi-platinum artists took the stage, primarily because each band was devoid of the echoing vocalist that has melted millions into a much sought after altered state. Clarity, however, crossed the room at the onset of “People Are Strange.” Rich, who flew in from the East Coast for the gig, has mastered his vocal range for his latest album and channeled his best Jim Morrison for the crowd, with the inevitable audience sing-alongs ensuing. He droned and lingered, foregoing only the hip sway epitomizing Morrison’s sex appeal. Interestingly enough, Chris Robinson also has a signature move onstage, usually referred to as the Chicken Dance and often requested by his cult following. Similarities between the two bands, separated by two solid decades, seemed to grow while facing the stage, so I continued unintentionally drawing comparisons. Both saw impressive debut album success, experienced public controversy and personal conflict, gained a reputation for experimental drug use at some level, and both are forever cemented in the history of rock and roll.
Back to the show: In classic jamband form, these veteran musicians took well-earned liberties with their guitar solos while onlookers settled into this unique return to a live Doors experience. It was easy to get lost in the cyclical and familiar sequences of the Fleetwood Mac tunes, especially when getting simultaneously lost in the background art of Norman Wisdom. The artist, who stood sidestage with markers and a whiteboard, continuously improvised drawings that may or may not have correlated to the music on stage. Overall it was a trippy night that weaved in and out of ages past and present and while the set was short, it was as it should be, all killer—no filler. John Avila’s bouncy stage presence and Magistro’s groove behind the drum kit were never overshadowed by the rock legend and Black Crowe; instead it was pure musical synergy. And as much as Crowes’ followers appreciate covers of great late 60’s and 70’s rock, the night would not pay homage to any actual Black Crowes’ songs. There was, however, no detectable disappointment in the Viper Room. The crowd applauded and whistled and basked in a performance that carried everyone to the other side. Robbie played several shows that night in and around the Sunset Strip, so an encore wasn’t going to happen. They concluded the show with an apropos “L.A. Woman,” the last audible sounds reverberating hauntingly off the walls. When the house lights went up, it was all over — and Jim Morrison left the building.
Here’s the set list:
Gone Away (Rich Robinson)
Station Man (early Fleetwood Mac)
People Are Strange (Doors)
Bye, Bye, Bye Baby (Rich Robinson)
Lost and Found (Rich Robinson)
Riders of the Storm (Doors)
Crossroads (Robert Johnson, popularized by Cream
Oh Well (early Fleetwood Mac)
Roadhouse Blues (Doors)
Backdoor Man (Willie Dixon, Doors hit)
LA Woman (Doors)