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Concert Reviews:
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood makes Saturday night alright in Pontiac

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015

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PONTIAC -- Black Crowes fans may be feeling some sting from the group's latest break-up, as announced last month by guitarist Rich Robinson.

But frontman (and older brother) Chris Robinson has a musical salve at the ready.

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which the elder Robinson started in 2011 at brought to the Crofoot Ballroom on Saturday night, Feb. 7, is the singer's extension of the multi-sourced, open-ended musicality that's part of the Crowes sound but even more fully embraces the Grateful Dead/jam band spirit of anything goes and no song being finished until the musicians decide it's run its course. On Saturday that yielded a lot of music -- 18 songs over a two-set performance that stretched into the wee hours of Sunday morning -- and took plenty of chances in both the selection of material and in its lengthy, often trippy arrangements.

Robinson and company weren't tied to their own material, either, bookending each of the sets with covers -- opening the first with Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" and closing with a muscular, Southern-friend take of Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain," then resuming by turning Tony Joe White's "Saturday Night in Oak Grove, Louisiana" into "Saturday Night in Pontiac" and closing the whole night with the Dead's "Bertha."

The CRB, breaking in new drummer Tony Leone, also used the occasion to play a brand new song, "Roan County Banjo," for just the third time live, and gave a nod to the Black Crowes with "Appaloosa" from the group's 2009 album "Before The Frost..."

But the real heart of the CRB came when the quintet launched into extended, unapologetically indulgent jams that gave guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougal plenty of room to stretch out and also showed off Robinson's own evolving skills as a guitar soloist. The quintet took off for parts unknown early in the night during "Meanwhile in the Gods..." and "Tulsa Yesterday," while "Like a Tumbleweed in Eden," from Robinson's previous New Earth Mud band, grew from its gentle melody into a heavyweight rocker that had the Crofoot shaking.

The second set, meanwhile, was highlighted by an epic flow of the "Vibration & Light Suite" into the hard-hitting New Earth Mud favorite "Ride," which at points showed just how far the CRB is able to push its instrumental excursions and still bring a song back to its core.

Robinson, of course, has always regarded the CRB on equal footing with the Black Crowes and treated it as its own independent entity. But coming in the wake of his brother's announcement, Saturday's show was certainly a statement that there's a long and ambitious road ahead for the CRB -- and more than just serving as a surrogate for disenfranchised Crowes fans.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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