Is it 1975 in here?
Tie-dyed shirts. Long hair. Beards. Pot smoke inside the club. Cigarette smoke inside the club. Lighters being waved in the air inside the club.
I bought a ticket for The Chris Robinson Brotherhood because I love Chris Robinson’s voice and what he does with blues rock. What I got was a jam band.
And the evening had started out so well. August 10th was the last day in NYC that the sun would set after 8:00pm until May 2012. Sunrise was at 6:00am and sunset was at 8:00pm. I decided to eat at one of my favorite Williamsburg restaurants even though it’s not close to the club. Café Argentino is a small friendly restaurant with excellent food. So far I’ve only eaten the appetizers – the portions are so big that two appetizers and a salad make a full meal. This time I had chicken empanadas that tasted liked the best arroz con pollo you ever had and rolled veal stuffed with carrots and hard boiled eggs and served with Latin American potato salad (ensalada rusa or Russian salad, which usually has hard boiled eggs and peas and carrots and depending on the region can have mustard in addition to the mayonnaise and lots of other good stuff).
I walked the mile to Music Hall of Williamsburg enjoying the sun and discovering a block of regular homes and daydreaming about selling my house in Queens and buying one in South Williamsburg. I re-discovered some restaurants and bars that I’ve been to but hadn’t noted exactly where they were before. Maybe I could live here. Then I got to Bedford Avenue and Hipster Central and wasn’t so sure that one mile would be far enough away for my new home.
Since I hadn’t gotten there early I couldn’t get my usual spot up behind the railing and near the stage. Instead I was near the back on the opposite side – but still behind the railing so I had a good view of the stage. While I was waiting I noticed that except for the appearance of one guard for a few minutes there was no security around. So once the show started people were smoking pot and smoking cigarettes. And they were taking photos and taping, which MHoW usually doesn’t allow. Combining the fashion choices of the audience and the band, adding in the smoke rising to the ceiling, and deleting the light of the cell phones it was feeling very 1975.
All the band members had long hair and beards. Chris Robinson (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) was wearing a flowered shirt and beads. Neal Casal (lead guitar) was in a tie-dyed t-shirt and jeans, Adam MacDougall of The Black Crowes (keyboards) was wearing a suit but still looking very hippie-ish, and Mark “Muddy” Dutton of Burning Trees (bass) looked like a miniature version of Rolling Thunder Revue Bob Dylan with the hat and glasses and scarf. The only thing keeping me in the 21st century was George Sluppick (drums) who looked totally ironic hipster in his black thick-rimmed glasses, cowboy hat and buttoned shirt.
They started out strong – the band is tight and the musicians are excellent. Dutton has a way of playing melody on the bass that just killed me. But after Robinson would give us some excellent vocals he would turn it over to Casal who would just play this endless jam. What do I have against jam bands? It all sounds so self-indulgent. I’d be happier watching the musicians doing an actual circle jerk on stage. The music never seems to connect to how the song started and it takes me out of the moment entirely. I find myself daydreaming until I hear the song ending or the vocalist coming back to the mic. I know others in the audience don’t feel so removed and there were moments where in spite of myself I was dancing. But I didn’t feel connected to the music and the musicians – that endless soloing pushes me away. MacDougall took a couple of solos and his were just as masterful and just as off-putting. There was at least once when Casal and MacDougall each took a blues/rock solo and I was in heaven. But the one song that started out very bluesy they managed to turn into jam band masturbation by the end. They played two sets and by the second set one-quarter to one-third of the audience was gone. By the encore they’d lost half the audience. Partly in their defense, it was a long night – the show started about quarter after nine and lasted until about 12:15am.
The band played some familiar songs and some new ones. One of my favorite moments was during “Blue Suede Shoes” done as a country blues song.
By Carene Lydia Lopez