Rich Robinson delivers a stripped-down set in the Rockport harbor
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
As Rich Robinson walked out and strapped on his guitar, he quietly told the crowd, “I’m going to play some songs for you,” before smiling and quickly undercutting it with, “I mean, that’s why you’re here.”
Immediately, the casual air was set for this night in Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, a small venue that served host to Robinson’s solo set, mostly acoustic and thread with a unifying dedication to the songs and the sound. Anything else would have unnecessarily bogged the night down.
The venue itself is set directly on the beach overlooking Rockport’s harbor, with its glass back wall offering the audience a perfect view of the sunset while the opening acts warm up. It’s intimate and acoustically flawless, and Robinson had the low-key setting he wanted.
Watching him command the stage with just his guitar and a few strategically placed Christmas lights behind him was an education in just how far he’s come since stepping out from the Black Crowes’ shadow. His confidence as a singer was obvious immediately, stepping up to open the show with “Down the Road,” delivered with an earthy soulfulness that sounds completely natural, as if he’s been fronting himself for decades.
His dexterity as a guitarist, whether he was acoustic, on a 12-string or plugged in, as on his roll through Bert Jansch’s “Blackwaterside,” with all the runs and turns later made famous by Jimmy Page in place. But it’s not just an extended workout, an excuse to show how quickly he can play as some kind of guitar exhibition. There’s a natural taste at work, and that he’s just able to execute all the complicated pieces is a testament to how long and how hard he’s worked at this.
He dropped in a few key covers, deeper tracks from the past 50 years of the collective songbook — Bob Dylan’s “Sign in the Window,” the Faces’ “Glad and Sorry” — but it was his own work that showed his abilities best. He stepped up to deliver a powerful version of “In Comes the Night,” with it’s tricky vocal rises balanced by the quiet, dynamic breaks. He changed tempos and explored grooves on “Lost and Found” and “I Remember,” songs that highlighted his vocal range along with his comfort on the fretboard.
As always, there was a charming self awareness on stage. Before the end of the set, he explained that, “I’ve been saying this every night, but this is the part of the night where there are two songs left. But instead of walking off, then coming back and playing those two songs, then leaving again, I’m just going to stay. So then, when I leave, you’ll know that I’m actually done. Sound good? After 50 years, I think we can stop playing that encore game.”
And he did, delivering excellent versions of “I Don’t Hear the Sound of You” and “What Is Home,” two more songs that display his deft touch as a songwriter, warm and observational and more concerned with the feeling rather than the specifics. There’s room to breathe, and it doesn’t have to be a punch to the head to deliver a powerful blow.
No pretense, no flashy production and a disarming lack of bravado. The songs spoke for themselves, and he delivered them with an honesty and clarity that was as powerful and unassuming as the ocean scene behind him, water rolling up on the waves, pushing forward and receding back with the rhythm.
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com