I do not overmuch care what Chris Robinson thinks about his brother Rich, John Mayer, Jerry Garcia, Hans Christian Andersen or anybody else.
What I do know beyond doubt is that I have now seen his band four times, and on three of those occasions, it’s made me smile contentedly and bob gently from side to side for hours at a stretch.
(They might have done it the fourth time, too, except I was on a hillside full of beer-swilling Donald Trump supporters in Scranton and I wasn’t in a big hurry to step on anybody’s blanket.)
Last night I caught the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (or, as the pre-event emcee called them, “the Chris Robinson Neighborhood”) at the Musikfest Cafe, a small room in Bethlehem that backs up to the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnace.
It’s the same place where Graham Parker and the Rumour floored me four years ago; this show was maybe not quite so life-affirming, but still a pleasure from start to finish.
-CR and his associates have introduced a new batch of tunes into their set lists in the past few months. I got to hear a bunch of them for the first time and they fit in nicely. (Some of CR’s originals wear Grateful Dead antecedents like “Bird Song” and “Cassidy” on their tie-dyed sleeves, but I’m fine with that.)
-CR was in fine fettle and strong voice.
-Lead guitarist Neal Casal remains one of rock n’ roll’s great left-hand men, and a pleasure to watch. He doesn’t miss a cue on guitar or backing vocals, and his hottest solo breaks almost always end with him pulling a bemused expression that says, “Well, shit, that came out better than I expected.” (He also seems a lot more comfortable using a Parsons-White B-bender than he was last fall.)
-Keyboardist Adam MacDougall spent less time than usual playing with his favorite ’70s ray-gun analog synth, and more time playing electric piano and Hohner Clavinet. Not sure if this is a permanent switch or just deference to the evening’s set list, but I liked it OK.
(I’ve thought more than once that I will someday get tired of that vintage synth sound MacDougall uses a lot, and his playing will one day magically cross the thin line between idiosyncratic and incessant. It hasn’t yet, and last night’s evidence suggests that maybe it won’t.)
-The CRB usually encores with a cover version. The first time I saw them it was a gorgeous version of the Grateful Dead’s “Candyman.” The second time, it was Dylan’s “To Ramona.” (They didn’t do an encore at the Scranton show, as it was a festival.)
Last night they pulled out a song I had no idea they even knew — “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” — and on top of that they played it perfectly, not mid-tempo like Freddy Fender but slow like Doug Sahm. (OK, maybe not quite as slow as Doug Sahm, but definitely on that end of the scale.)
If I have any beef with these guys, it’s maybe that the rhythm section, while perfectly competent, could maybe kick the band along a little harder from time to time. They’re pretty laid-back.
It also doesn’t appear that CR and company plan to offer the show as a download, which kinda disappoints me: Of the four shows I’ve seen, only one has subsequently been available for purchase.
Guess I’ll have to keep going back, then.