Gig Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

The Furry Freak Brothers from across the pond take over Student Central in London to give a lecture in Psychedelic Country Blues and Stoner Rock’n’Roll. Two stunning sets from The Chris Robinson Brotherhood saw this packed house get all warm and fuzzy inside.

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A new venue in London for me tonight, Student Central and it does feel a bit like a Uni Social, but instead of groups of older teenage kids getting all pumped up with the latest choons from a hot new DJ or Grime Artist, we’ve got a beardy hippy crew in the house tonight. The former lead frontman for The Black Crowes – Chris Robinson is in town for the only UK date on his ‘Barefoot in Europe’ Tour, and this is the chosen location for his psychedelic trip fest.

The stage has a giant freak flag behind it, reminiscent of the Stars and Stripes but with a big F in the top left corner, the call sign of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB) and those that follow, being about “Letting Your Freak Flag Fly”, looking around – there’s a few, but mostly we have this compliant British reserve plastered thickly all over our freakiness, making it only really fly on a weekend or when you’ve a sitter for the evening. The smell of incense is as intense as it used to be at Crowes gigs, but the sticks tonight are placed in an owl at the back of the stage, he watches over them like Jerry Garcia’s ghost, the modern pretenders to the Grateful Dead crown very rarely tour outside of the US.

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Opening with Seven Nights to Rock the setlist(s) (for there will be two sets) on this tour have changed every night, so you really have no idea what the man is going to play (and maybe he doesn’t either till 10 mins before the start) but that doesn’t matter, the CRB are a jam band and nearly every track will be extended with guitar and keyboard solos a plenty.

Chris Robinson has a guitar in hand for the whole show, but it’s really reserved more for rhythm and the odd solo, he’s never been known as a great guitarist. The key ingredients aside from some steady bass and drums is Neal Casal and Adam MacDougall. For these two members of the CRB are the crucial spice to the potent heady mix. Casal is a superb guitarist – trading several guitars throughout the set (and even changing them mid song) he is composed and in an almost meditative state, sometimes appearing to stare into space but always measured whilst producing some exquisite solos. Occasionally he ventures from his spot on the left of Robinson to walk to the centre stage, it’s rare, almost as rare as Chris Robinson speaking to the crowd. Normally quite vocal, Robinson merely acknowledges the sold-out crowd, a few peace signs and thank you’s, but that’s about it. He’s not here to preach, just to play some music and use his golden voice box for singing.

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Adam MacDougall’s involvement varies from some integral but introspective keys, to a bizarre high pitched warbled synth that obliterates anything playing alongside. It’s like a laser gun shooting the moment dead, thankfully it is only used in small doses tonight, but when he leans forward to his left, tilts his glasses and then shoots with the device, all my musical senses recoil with a “What the F**k was that?” expression. I know this psychedelic trip is supposed to be “All Kosmic Maan”, but maybe it’s just too high in the mix, or maybe his roadie needs to drop it a few times to sort the problem out, either way that thing was responsible for me disappearing to the bar before the end of the first set, which did end with a sublime version of The Byrds ‘Lazy Days’.

The timing of my exit however, meant that when the set ended I was already ‘refreshed’ and ready for set 2, and as the band finished, I wandered down to the front as everyone else went to the bar, I’m now in pole position near the front. The CRB are not afraid to tackle a cover song or three and tonight their opener of set two brought tears to my eyes, Loving Cup one of my favourite Rolling Stones tracks delivered impeccably and the cheer they got at the end probably surprised them all.

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I’ve decided not to waffle too much about the Love/Hate relationship I have with Chris Robinson, who has elated me through his frontman duties with the finest band on the planet (IMHO) in the 90’s, then apparently singlehandedly crushed any dreams of The Black Crowes reforming with a greedy stance for more of the family share than his brother Rich. Let’s just leave all that to one side and consider that both of the brothers are happy in what they are currently doing, Chris frequently is smiling and laughing – he’s happy with The CRB musically, as it is his own individual freedom and expression, financially is another matter – and probably why CRB have only ever played 2 gigs in the UK, with both played in London. Much safer and more financially astute to tour the US, perhaps the hippy ideal also has some £ grounding behind the scenes.

‘I’m a Hog for You’ is a classic extended song with every player in the band given a slot to expand audiences minds, Chris is no exception as he plays a fantastic harp solo for some 4 minutes or so, gaining momentum gradually to a fever pitch at the end. Jam bands need to be heard and seen live, as no record can quite capture that same presence on stage. At one point some bald-headed dude tries to get on stage, Robinson cuts him off before he lays a hand on the monitors, coldly staring at him for the next few minutes as Security dealt with the perpetrator. He may look like a Hermit from the 60’s, but he isn’t short of a firework or two, I remember in the dim and distant seeing him jump over the barrier at a show when confrontation occurred.

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However, for most of the show it’s a warm fuzzy feeling inside, particularly during ‘If You Had A Heart To Break’, at times these songs transport you direct to their naturally sunny California home, all Big Sur, Country Roads and Twinkling Lights. Transcending with ease from Country to Americana to Psychedelia throughout the evening the CRB finish off with a more Rock n Roll tune of ‘Got Love if You Want It’ and even more harmonica from Mr Robinson.

Having run through close to a 3-hour set, we are allowed a final encore, and one they were heard practicing in the rehearsal earlier, another stunning cover, and this time it’s John Lennon’s ‘Watching the Wheels’. Looking toward the stage I catch a glimpse of the security guard, visibly moved and singing every word.

I’ll admit I was sceptical going into this show, expecting this to be the final nail into the coffin of The Black Crowes and Chris Robinson in particular. However, I now appreciate that each brother has their own musical path in life and whilst very different, both paths are right for them, and that’s the way it is going to be for a long time to come. Whilst we might wait and want a reunion, in the meantime there are 2 great bands to enjoy – The Magpie Salute and  The Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

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Listening: ‘Barefoot in the Head’ album released July 2017
Watching:Narcissus Soaking Wet’ (all 9 mins plus recorded live in a radio studio)

Setlist 1: Seven Nights to Rock / Rosalee / High is not the Top / Tulsa Yesterday / Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line / The Chauffeur’s Daughter / New Cannonball Rag / Lazy Days

Setlist 2: Loving Cup / Vibration & Light Suite / Venus in Chrome / One Hundred Days of Rain / I’m a Hog for You / Good to Know / Behold the Seer / If You had a Heart to Break / Got Love if You Want it Encore: Watching the Wheels

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One Response to “Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Student Central, London, UK – 16th March 2018”

  1. Todd Sandberg Says:

    You have a great site here boys….Seen the CRB in Minneapolis in Nov. 2017. It was really trippy and fantastic. Also seen the Black Crowes in Fargo North Dakota in 2009 for the Warpaint tour. Now that was a Great concert.!! Thanks gig junkies! I’m a “music junkie” for 45+ years. Respect, mon’ Todd a.k.a. “Rock & Roll Farmer” from Minnesota.. Your words in the review were super.

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