Review by Tony BonyataWith a brand new debut solo album fresh on the record racks and file-sharing networks, the Black Crowes' frontman Chris Robinson slipped into town for a riveting solo performance that showcased the many facets of his own musical tastes.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Purposely shunning his material from The Black Crowes, Robinson instead concentrated on not only some of the stronger numbers from his new album New Earth Mud, but also opened up the great American songbook, tossing in delicious covers and a melting pot of different genres that ranged from honky tonk country, New Orleans funk, boogie woogie, reggae, gospel and heavy blues. They even unfurled an extended jam or two, for those steeped in hemp and patchouli.
Robinson still had all of his vocal chops, and then some. Only now instead of peacocking in front of his band, as he had previously done with the Crowes, the bearded and shaggy Robinson now seemed content just to be one of the guys in the band. And it fit him as comfortably as the thick sweater he wore over his wiry frame.
Gone was the cocky swagger and glammed up bravado from his days with The Black Crowes, in favor of a singer / songwriter more concerned with the content of his songs and his own guitar playing - alternating between acoustic and electric throughout the lengthy two sets - than deciding which girl in the front row he'd be shagging later.
The turnout may have been a little disappointing for this particular gig - with only about three hundred in attendance - but those lucky enough to show up were treated to a very intimate and special performance, as Robinson, along with Paul Stacey (guitar) and his brother Jeremy (drums), George Laks (keys) and George Reiff (bass), proved to be a truly great band, full of dynamics, emotion and some damn fine rock 'n' roll. While the uncertainty of The Black Crowes' future as a band is up in the air, nobody was questioning, because, quite frankly, after just one night with these guys, it didn't seem to matter.
While the southern Exile On Physical Graffiti cold-cock of The Black Crowes was nowhere in sight, nobody missed it as Robinson's honest vocals and guitar interplay with Laks' breathy organ and the taut rhythm section helped to define a promising new direction in the singer's career. The icing on the cake of this band, though, was found through the brilliant guitar work laid down by Stacey, which ran from shimmering psychedelia ( on the Doors-ey metal dirge of "Kissing Magik Horses") to funky reggae ("Reflections On A Broken Mirror") to honky tonk leads (on the ditchbound Louisiana Hayride of Jimmie Rodgers' "T For Texas").
Running through a handful of numbers from the new album, such as "Safe In The Arms Of Love," colored with stinging leads and honey-laced harmonies, the haunting pop of "Better Than The Sun," and the falling-off-the-bone funk of "Ride," Robinson chose not to perform the album in its entirety, instead polishing up gems like Dylan's "Tough Mama" and "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You," as well as a joyful version of The Grateful Dead's "Sugaree." The band also stoked up a heavy version of Eric Clapton's "Blues Power," while chicken-wire and broken beer bottles were the only things missing from the aching country ballad of The Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City."
As Chris Robinson proudly wore his influences on his sleeve, he also proved, that as a solo artist with some fine new material and a genuinely great live band, that this is one Crowe that may never look back after taking flight from the flock.
Setlist from Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud's
02.12.03 Milwaukee show
1) Safe In The Arms Of Love
2) Sunday Sound
3) Tough Mama
4) Barefoot By The Cherry Tree 5) Blues Power
6) The Last of The Great Train Robbers
7) Kids That Ain't Got None
8) Mother of Stone
9) Sin City
10) Red Road
11) I Know You Rider
1) Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
2) Hi-Speed Transportation LA City Limit Blues
3) Kissing Magik Horses
4) Beginners and Sinners
6) Reflections of a Broken Mirror
7) Sing Me Back Home
8) T For Texas
10) Better Than The Sun
11) Got Love If You Want It
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