Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Rich Robinson is a musician whose licks you know, even if the name draws a blank. If you were presented with him, you'd definitely be able to identify his brother, Chris. The brother tandem head out the band "The Black Crowes ." Rich Robinson shot up to fame at a very young age and rather suddenly came back down to earth. Robinson has suffered his own set of setbacks; travails which are faced square on in his new solo record, "Through a Crooked Sun." Robinson's solo music was the name of the game for his recent set of shows at City Winery .
Robinson's early show at City Winery was full of pathos as he tried out some new material on the uniformly enthusiastic audience. The crowd was densely packed and rather animated for a Tuesday night early show in October. While the City Winery space at 155 Varick Street certainly wasn't full at the outset, by the time the set was well underway many of the empty spaces had filled in. As I surveyed the scene I surmised that The Black Crowes appeared to be some of the livelier songs in the collections of this crowd. Many of the audience were done up in work shirts and dainty dresses but once the music got thumping, this audience let the band whisk them away.
Robinson appeared onstage basically on time. He was dressed in drab corduroy or some kind of beaten down denim, button up shirt, jacket, and comfortable looking flat footed shoes. His hair was tied back and he appeared ready to lead a Sunday school class. Maybe the look was all part of the lull; get people thinking they're going to get one thing and then attack them with something else.
While Robinson's shaggy haired keyboard player, Afro-haired drummer, and diesel looking bass player got set up, Robinson made some last minute adjustments and teased out the crowd. He commented on what the City Winery crowd were eating, drinking, and he tried to gauge the audience enthusiasm. Either he's a bad gauge or the audience held their ace in the hole because before the music kicked in, the audience seemed comatose.
That all changed when the beats came rollicking in though.
Before they began playing Robinson promised the audience that the music would be "loud." Boy was that an understatement. During the outfits first song the bass players grooves nearly tore a hole in the post which shielded me from him. Robinson played a jazzy/bluesy guitar at the outset which bordered on screeching mania by the time the song was over.
The bridge in the second song sent this listener into a redundant psychotic trance. Once the song got going it seemed to go into overdrive with Robinson taking the lead and showing off some lengthy chops. Robinson wound up trading licks with the underscoring of the ecstatic organ line. This occasion would not be the last for this to happen. The "thunk/thunk/thunk" of the bass drum kept on like a heartbeat and directed Robinson's solo from going too far afield.
On Robinson's new album, "Through a Crooked Sun," the bandleader does a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song "Station Man." He and the band played this tune in his City Winery appearance. Fans of both bands appeared to be in the audience and both were very pleased.
Many of the songs this evening felt as though lurching along while one of the members of the band showed off their best. Robinson was the consummate bandleader though; acknowledging the keyboardist for when to take his turn, cutting off the drummer to his rear and at one point even extending the song by waving his hand in a small circle and indicating he wanted to go again.
Let me be clear though; Robinson behind the microphone is not his brother. With his straight up delivery, Robinson could almost be called brother Chris' inverse. That may be some of the reason why Rich decided to get off on his own for a while. If The Black Crowes and Chris Robinson's delivery could be described as pleading with Rich's guitar playing and pleading with the audience then his own singing personage honors the guitar skills and gets out of the way of things.
I really liked Rich Robinson's solo show and will likely get his record. A few notes though about the show; it was very loud. City Winery is not a restrictive, sheltered, or really all that small of a space. Still, the way Robinson had everything cranked up to the hilt, it made the modest City Winery space feel like his concert should be playing the bigger stages of Madison Square Garden. Only reinforcing that was the fact that Robinson had a stagehand bringing him out a different guitar for every song. He's been playing a long time and he likes what he likes but all the tweaking seemed, to me, unnecessary (probably because everything was so loud!)
Still Rich Robinson is out on his own and for that he should be commended. It probably would have been easy for Robinson to retreat and take the solitary road. The fact that Robinson has lain it all out there on the line and offered up himself and his story for his audience only makes the catharsis that much more real coming out into the crooked sun of the new day.
City Winery is located at 155 Varick Street.
www. richrobinson .net
www. citywinery .com