Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Top Hat, Missoula MT- 5/13
Photo by Matt Riley
It’s always a treat to see a bona fide rock star in a small venue, a sentiment not lost on the crowd that packed The Top Hat to capacity on a Tuesday night to witness the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s rock and roll revival. The Black Crowes frontman and his most recent gang of musical outlaws made a stop in Missoula on their extensive tour behind their new album, Phosphorescent Harvest, and the results were as expected: a gritty, greasy rock show packed with improvisation and served to an enthusiastic crowd.
The show started with the gospel-tinged shuffle of “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go,” followed by “Jump the Turnstile,” marked by one of many distinctive synth melodies cranked out by keys player Adam MacDougall. If CRB has a particular calling card besides Robinson’s easily recognizable voice it’s MacDougall’s extravagant tones, sometimes bordering on vintage video game sounds that might come off as cheesy if they weren’t so tastefully composed. This is a band that often wears their influences on their sleeve (most notably the Grateful Dead), but beneath that sleeve lies some unmistakable tricks.
Halfway through the first set the band finally showed off their propensity to jam, stretching “Roll Old Jeremiah” into psychedelic directions. Robinson kept crowd interaction to a minimum throughout the show, but when the band put their heads together for explorations like these, no words were necessary. They kicked back into gear with a cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain” that cooked along with help from guitarist Neil Casal’s southern slide licks before wrapping up the first set with “About a Stranger.”
The opening notes of the second set indicated a rowdier affair than the previous, as the group dug up the rocker “40 Days” from Robinson’s previous group, New Earth Mud. Casal’s overdriven solo pushed “Train Robber” deep into rock balladry, and the vaguely disco leanings of “Vibration and Light Suite” opened doors to a spacey jam that allowed bassist Mark Dutton’s aggressively funky lines to wind their way into the only Black Crowes cover of the night, “I Ain’t Hiding.” The crowd coaxed the group out of the shadows a down-home version of the traditional “Betty and Dupree,” with Casal’s twangy guitar licks driving the song all the way to honky-tonk heaven.