DETROIT -- We've learned over the past nearly eight years not to expect anything from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Or to expect the unexpected.
So the group's "Sunday night selection" on Nov. 18 at Saint Andrews Hall was, as expected, different from anything the hirsute quintet has played during its fall/winter tour so far -- as is its wont, unlikely to be repeated again.
A jam band in the truest sense of the word, the CRB filled its two hours and 15 minutes onstage, plus intermission, with lengthy and exciting instrumental discourses that spliced genres together as comfortably as the relaxed denims and T-shirts favored by the group members. The format gave lead guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall (who was with Robinson in the final incarnation of the Black Crowes) plenty of room to stretch out during the 17 songs -- particularly on epic treatments of the twang-tinged "Meanwhile in the Gods," the easygoing "Tulsa Yesterday" and an energetic, psychedelic second set pairing of "New Cannonball Rag" and "Tomorrow Blues."
Robinson, meanwhile, sang with his trademark soulful husk, playing guitar throughout and taking harmonica solos during a cover of the Coasters' "I'm a Hog For You" and the CRB's own "Behold the Seer." There were no Crowes songs in the mix (not a surprise), but the group did dip into Robinson's New Earth Mud project for the gentle "Like a Tumbleweed in Eden" and delivered a funky take on Jim Alley & the Alley Cats' "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line."
What the CRB does feels easy, but isn't, and Sunday's show displayed a rare combustion of virtuosity and instinct that kept an appreciative Saint Andrews crowd both rapt and rowdy. The group will undoubtedly be back this way again -- and with another entirely different show that will likely have the same effect.