“It’s time for the truth be told, time to shed some light, and let it flow tonight.” The seasons rebirth, in spring of 2011, brought forth a bountiful musical harvest. A little band known only at the time as the Chris Robinson Brotherhood was embarking on its first tour ever. Driving up and down the coast of California, just a group of guys, a van full of equipment, and a handful of songs. Those songs would eventually grow, multiply and become the soundtrack to our lives and anthems for a whole congregation of freaks. It’s hard to even think that this roaring beast we now know by those three little letters, CRB, was ever just a tribe of warriors in search of their proving ground. This show, 6/29/2011, was the last of that initial California run, they would play one more in Quincy at the High Sierra Festival, before taking the West Coast Freak Folk Boogie across the country and eventually the world. Much to the delight of hungry fans who had been waiting for a band like this to come along. Listening back to this night in Felton, California, it is clear they had their feet firmly underneath them. Even if they didn’t touch the ground much once things got moving. This show has all the early raw, true improvisational magic, but you’ll also hear a band that is confident and sure of just what they stand for and where they intend to go. Click the link and take the ride, and I’ll give you some sign posts to watch for along the way.
The show starts in a very unique way, with a wash of sounds mixing 60’s Science Fiction and brooding Western motifs. CR comes in singing of Topanga skies and faithful desert whispers. “Can you make it feel like home, are you ready?!!” They hammer into Eagles On The Highway, letting the song build and overflow with laid back solos by Neal and Adam bursting with perfectly fitting tones. The stage again starts to bubble and brew as they slide into that opening shimmer of Tulsa Yesterday. This ever shifting and charged version starts at the usual mid-tempo and mid-western pace, before starting to stretch its legs a little more. Gradually setting up the crowd for the massive Poor Elijah that follows. Neal’s slide warble sets the scene for some amazing work by the entire band as they each take turns riding the waves crest. The wizard is hard at work in his lab giving this Reflections On a Broken Mirror an extra dose or two or that uneasy weirdness that makes these songs so undeniably Brotherhood. We then all get carried back to the 1970 sounds of the Grateful Dead as they tear through a really uptempo Brown Eyed Women. Neal paying respectful homage to Garcia , but not mimicking those classic licks outright. Instead, laying down a legacy and sound all his on, show after show. For me the set highlight comes next in this Star Or Stone that seems to dance on air at times. The whole band finds the same tone and the harmonic results can be felt through your entire body as they push it through the clouds and break free of gravity, into the stars. Adam leads us through a bouncy Tomorrow Blues that seems to parade around to the delight and approval of the crowd. The set closes with a bombastic Rosalee that proves the power that this song had from the start. They could have loaded the van and headed on after a powerhouse first set like this. But, a heavy second helping of west coast rock and roll was coming up that nobody wanted to miss.
An absolutely blistering 40 Days leaps forth and the second set is off like a rocket ship. The breakdown at the halfway point finds the band singing in beautiful harmony before Neal releases the tension with a “sleepwalking” vibed guitar passage that is goosebump inducing. The band is warm and cruises along through melodic interplay and CR’s concise calls in Tumbleweed In Eden. Powerful strumming and rhythms lead to the songs crashing chorus as we all sway and soar, until it takes off into a tapestry of technicolor tales. The tumbling timbre of Seventh Son, Willie Dixon’s rhythm and blues voyage of coolness, is played with authority and an elastic groove that works its way into even the most stationary of stances. It’s then time for the bands number one improvisational vehicle Vibration & Light Suite. The groove takes over and leads them through hair pin changes of both key and tempo as we literally listen to the song evolving and expanding before our ears. A battle between ancient astronaut installations breaks out and we are caught, blissfully, in the crossfire of sound. The stage seems divided as they fire auditory arms back and forth and they explode somewhere near the base of our skulls. Then out of the smoke, that climbing guitar lick stars to repeat and CR starts to beckon to the soldiers of soul, “people get ready, to ride”. The forces of funk assemble and they all join in one hive-mind and we get 20 minutes of insanity. Ride>Ain’t Hiding is the equivalent of being caught in the jets as the last escape pod blasts away from the galactic core to safety. A multifaceted masterpiece, and journey into the disco dark and pulsating pathways where Parliament meets the swagger of Bowie. Falling from that madness into the eerie stillness but comfort of Driving Wheel has never felt better. You’ll enjoy feeling of your entire body buzzing while they bleed through this ballad of love, longing and eventual return. I don’t know if Driving Wheel ever got any better than this. The set ends with a percussive choir of cool and a Sunday Sound for the ages. It’s got that little something special that’s hard to define, but it starts with CR and the way he drives the band throughout the song. When Adam comes in for his mad scientist like movement it’s and all out blitz on the senses. And the perfect way to bring the main two sets to a close. The encore is a nod to a band heading out to shine some light. The Byrds classic I Am A Pilgrim is a fitting home for CR’s voice. The band then kicks into the powerful Kinks stomp Got Love If You Want It and Neal bends, pulls and slides all over the fretboard. Sending everyone home with a little boogie and their shoes. And a whole lot of freak in their souls.
These 2011 shows are always such great listens. We are allowed to see a lot of these songs in their infancy, as jams are being born, growing into the exploratory acid-washed monsters they are now. Some haven’t changed much, some have doubled and even tripled in size and power. But most of all these are great, hard hitting, rock and roll head trips. Listen loud by clicking the link and downloading it tonight! Always remember, we all lonely when love leaves. So lend a little and get a lot. And as always Freak On brothers and sisters!
Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Eagles On The Highway
Reflections On A Broken Mirror Brown-Eyed Women
Star Or Stone
Tumbleweed In Eden
Vibration & Light Suite
I Ain’t Hiding
I Am A Pilgrim
Got Love If You Want It