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Published: 2014/12/16
by Larson Sutton

Chris Robinson Brotherhood El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA- 11/28

Photo by Stuart Levine

As front man for the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson’s elastic, mystical gyrations, complemented a voice steeped in Southern heritage, making for a center stage centerpiece that demanded and deserved attention. In that band, which he shared with his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson (which at the moment is in a nebulous state of undefined vacation), It was not unusual for the Crowes to endure periods of, to be polite, sibling discord. So, it’s with a wink of irony that the Chris Robinson Brotherhood exists, itself a quintet of like-minded psychedelic explorers that finds Robinson playing guitar, singing as happily, freely, and as well as ever, and looking much more like a rank-and-file bandmate than the rock star whose name graces the marquee and eponymously leads this ragged crew of wonderfully talented musicians on the Friday night after Thanksgiving into Los Angeles and the El Rey Theatre.

The flag-flyers of informality appeared without introduction, each a sartorial template of the ‘70s, and lit a match to Frank Motley’s “Try Rock & Roll.” From the first step, the whirling wizardry of Adam Macdougall on any one of his many keyboards, electric piano for the opener, was on parade, whether on the loping “Tomorrow Blues,” from the Brotherhood’s 2012 co-debut Big Moon Ritual, or an idyllic “If Your Wheel Don’t Roll,” off the band’s other 2012 release The Magic Door. A somewhat sedate, reserved introductory trio, the lively, thumping “Safe in the Arms of Love,” a cover by definition from Robinson’s New Earth Mud band, and a chunky, danceable interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” started to shake loose the holiday hangover. The sauntering “Meanwhile in the Gods” emerged into “Tulsa Yesterday,” and some spectacular guitar from Neal Casal, before the escalating rock and roll of Slim Harpo’s “Got Love if You Want It,” with Robinson on harmonica, closed out the first act.

After a brief intermission, the second set powered up with Leon Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the pushing prowl of “Shore Power.” The shuffling, riverboat drift of “Beggar’s Moon” and country-fried “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor” rode in on an easy wind, before the “Vibration and Light Suite” sent the boys hurtling through a celestial field of mirror balls and blurred, bell-bottomed bliss. Gorgeous harmony marked New Earth Mud’s “Ride,” with Tom Rush’s “Driving” and the rippling, good-time “Rosalee” drawing the show to close. Perhaps in an homage to both the El Rey’s history as a motion picture palace and the venue’s proximity to Hollywood Boulevard, the Brotherhood’s encore debuted a slightly baroque reading of The Kinks classic “Celluloid Heroes,” then another inaugural for the group, the Crowes-by-way-of-Grateful Dead-by-way-of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” holding tight to the funky staccato guitar breaks and bringing the concert to its conclusion.

At times, the air of nostalgia did hang cannabis-thick. Yet, there is a welcome tugging at the loose threads of the robe of modern-day, production value pretense that emanates from a Chris Robinson Brotherhood performance. Absent any affectation or ulterior intent, with only the desire to be the finest house band for tonight’s party, the exceptionally strong songwriting of these five is more than able to saddle up with a wide-ranging repertoire of compatible covers for an over two-hour evening joyous and carefree.

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