For the last couple of weeks, the talented and notorious Robinson Brothers have been making their way westward on their Brothers of a Feather Tour, playing intimate venues on two continents and showing audiences that neither has lost their love for music, the road, nor each other. With tickets going on sale February 10th, all 11 dates were sold out by day’s end and many venues, within minutes.
Monday night, the stage was set in Denver’s downtown speakeasy Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox for the group’s solitary Colorado stop. With a 400-person capacity, it was clear that the Mile-High City was excited and ready for the return of Chris and Rich. With two hours before showtime, the line was already stretched from the front door, down the block, and around the corner and was filled with smiling faces swapping stories of their history with the incarnations of talent that The Robinson’s, both as a group and independents, had generated and how The Black Crowes catalog music had been integral to their own soundtracks.
With doors opening at 8 o’clock, Ophelia’s filled almost immediately to capacity. At a quarter past nine, The Brethren took the stage and were warmly welcomed, generating a glowing grin on both the performer’s faces. Taking advantage of the tight surroundings, Chris comically chided the audience, asking, "Why are you so close? What the f**k is that all about?!?!”, as he giggled and Rich looked on with a widened smile. Wasting no time, the two jumped right into “Jealous Again” and quickly showed that neither needed a warmup tune to get going. By the second stanza of lyrics, the audience was fully engaged and many in attendance joined in by singing along.
“Hotel Illness” filled the second slot and reminded everyone that Chris is as much as a great harmonicist as he is an incredible on-stage personality, working the mouth organ with power and conviction. This dynamic coupled with the slide mastery and perfect time of Rich, made the room feel more like a southern church than a nightclub.
The duo continued with “Wiser Time” and took the opportunity to show off their pipes, reminding the audience that in spite of each being a talent in their own right, the concoction they produce together is intoxicating and deep.
As if everyone wasn’t already feeling heavy with nostalgia, Chris begins the next tune by stating that what has made their trek on the tour so enjoyable is that “ in revisiting these songs in these small surroundings, this is as close as how Rich and I wrote all these songs originally”, which seemed to reflect that these siblings were mending their history with the roots of that early connection to each other, making this rare performance even heavier. Continuing, Chris stated, “That for many of the tunes there is an element of dreaming and this next piece is the epitome of that dynamic” and with that, the two began “Thorn in my Pride”, which included a moving harmonica solo and more acceptance from the audience at its finish.
The stage backdrop for Ophelia’s is a mosaic mish-mash of old-time radios, eight tracks, and the like, and before starting up “Cursed Diamond”, Chris Robinson decided to incorporate this eye candy into the evening’s schtick, as he commented “how cool it was to be on the set of Hoarders” as he directed everyone’s attention to the backdrop, pulling a hearty laugh from the audience. He continued, commenting further on “how great it was to shine a light on someone’s personal problem (hoarding) all for the sake of advertising”. He quickly retracted his statement, apologizing for making light of hoarding, but then dismantled that stance, stating, he was “not sorry because he wasn’t a hoarder”, but after another brief pause of realization, stated “ all of this coming from a guy with 8000 records in his living room”, stimulating a raised eyebrow and wry smirk from Rich while the crowd further appreciated the comic relief at Chris’ expense.
“Oh Josephine” was introduced in the juxtaposition to every song written about life and the many situations therein as being like a dream. Instead, this song, according to Chris, “was written about when the dream is over”. Both “Cursed Diamond” and “Oh Josephine” delivered on the emotional blues dynamic that The Robinson’s creations evoke that makes their unique take on the blues history a genuine experience for the listener.
Turning up the grit, “Horsehead” was brought to show and the gnarly slide of Rich resounded throughout the room. At the tail of the equine, the mid-set, multiple beer conversation point of the set had finally arrived, and interspersed exchanges could be heard from different parts of the room. Chris and Rich attempted to ignore it, well really Rich more than Chris, as Rich started up “Twice as Hard”, making it through a couple of measures before Chris signaled him to stop. At this point, he addressed the crowd, and asked sternly, “What?!?! Are you f**king bored because I can hear you talking through the whole tune”? At this point, anyone who had been following the tour knew what was coming next. Chris continued, “If you are bored, go outside and talk, or maybe pull your sh*t together for another 25 minutes because what you are doing is rude. Now you have really pissed me off, having to interrupt my brother to address you”. Although internet chatter has looked down on Chris for similar point-blank addresses in Boston and Philadelphia, stating how can a performer criticize his own audience, the crowd felt that his outspokenness was appropriate and warranted, not only for the intimacy of the surroundings but also because for any true appreciator of music, the whole chomper movement is out of control and if anyone is going to see live music, it should be done with ears wide open and mouths closed shut.
The blood kin brought out the echoing drone of “Descending”, which ended in alternating exchange of vocals between Chris and Rich and continued to display the fact that the crafted pieces of The Crowes are unique and diverse in meter and feeling. The set closer saw the pairing of great renditions of two Crowes classics in “She Talks to Angels” and “Remedy”, affording one last chance at the audience sing-along. A little surprising was the encore choice, as Lowell George’s “Willin” was the designated closer. Many were expecting and hoping for another piece from their favorite band, but the crowd was willing enough to jump in and add vocals to the parting piece.
In the end, the night was filled with great music and harkened back to what it must have been like to see these two great artists at their humble beginnings. Observing the two in such an organic way left much of the fanfare and fantasy at the door and the guys were seen and felt as two making music rather than rock legend. Although the setlist on the tour has not deviated much, the audience seemed to enjoy every moment of the music, the banter, and the interpersonal exchanges. The two sounded well-rehearsed and genuinely appeared to be enjoying each other’s talent and company. These dynamics surely increased the anticipatory excitement for what the two will bring on their Shake Your Money Maker Tour this summer, especially their return to the hallowed ground of Red Rocks. The last time Chris and Rich did this intimate acoustic thing was in 2006 and who knows when it might happen again so for those who were lucky enough to get tickets this time around, this musical experience is truly what dreams are made of.