Once upon a time I used to kick it with a lovely young woman who would get turned on every time "She Talks to Angels" played on the radio. As such, the record containing that song was a near constant presence in my house. I made damn sure it was on every mixtape I made for her. It stood ever ready to perform its duty whenever she came by. I'd call the request line and beg the DJ to keep it on permanent rotation. We'd be out at a restaurant and have to call for the check suddenly when it inexplicably popped up on the jukebox. I was quite possibly the Black Crowes' biggest fan, infinitely grateful that Chris Robinson had ever deigned to pick up a microphone.
Those were great days.
Alas, the time came, one fateful afternoon, when she and I went our separate ways and my attention to the band sadly waned. Out of a sense of nostalgia, I decided to head over to the NorVa last night and see what Brother Chris is up to these days with his post-Crowes fellowship.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood is first and foremost a top notch group of musicians. Neal Casal used to play git for Ryan Adams, appearing on three of his studio records. Adam MacDougall is a holdover from the Crowes' last two records, who also played keys for Macy Gray. Tony Leone has played with everyone from Rickie Lee to Marshall Crenshaw, to Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, and The Allman Brothers Band. It's s stellar line-up, but of course -- Chris Robinson is the man every one came to see. If he appears a bit older and wiser than our minds-eye image recalls, his voice remains in fine form and he's grown into a six-string beast.
He's made the interesting choice here to tour without an opener, instead breaking up two separate sets with about a half hour intermission. The song list is peppered with numbers from across their five records, most prominently: "Tulsa Yesterday", "Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks", "Thin Lizzie", and the breathtaking "Narcissus Soaking Wet." There are occasional nods to to musical ancestors with covers from Dylan, Slim Harpo, Delaney Bramlett , and others -- depending on the night. What you aren't going to hear are Black Crowes covers, which makes sense given Robinson's shift away from the straight Blues-Rock of his salad days into more amorphous, Dead-inspired jam sessions. I imagine that aforementioned girlfriend buying tickets for this show in some far away city wherever she is now, being sorely disappointed at the lack of those songs -- but at the end of the day this is a musician steadfastly uninterested in clinging to the past. And there's nothing wrong with that. He's making great new music now, and he's always kept a certain amount of distance between the CRB's present and his past. Besides, he just finished a tour with a band centered around those songs this past Spring -- As the Crow Flies. If she wanted to relive those memories, she should have snagged a ticket to one of those nights.
Last night was for now, and the past isn't going anywhere.