Rich Robinson explores the space of his new songs in Allston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“It’s funny, reading body language and what you see up here,” Rich Robinson said towards the end of his set. “There are you guys (up front) who are always here and have always supported me. Then there are the guys in the back with their arms crossed going, ‘he doesn’t sound like his brother.’”
“Then you get the one guy who leaves in a huff because I wasn’t going to do ‘She Talks to Angels.’”
Rich the comedian is becoming an increasingly familiar aspect to the solo artist. And at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston on Friday night, he let the crowd know that he’s all-too familiar with some of the expectations. He’s also happy to push ahead and show that he’s already a well-rounded, accomplished bandleader in his own right, underscored by the fact that this was one of the few things he said to the crowd through his band’s two-hour set.
It’s hard to imagine who was there stacking him up against his brother Chris Robinson. Following the dissolution of the Black Crowes, the siblings have gone down markedly different paths. For Rich, it’s about writing better and better songs and, when it’s available, riding a groove and capitalizing on the spontaneity of the live setting.
A good chunk of that was illustrated by the songs from his new album, Flux. After a quick greeting of, “Hey, we’re gonna play some songs for ya,” he jumped into the stuttering funk of “Shipwreck,” and later explored the open-chord spaces of “Ides of Nowhere” and went off on the effects-heavy “Which Way Your Wind Blows.” He also went acoustic and gave the band a song off on “The Music That Will Lift Me.”
But it’s the growing depth of his solo catalog that’s helping to turn his shows into an event. He’s now at the point where a previous night’s setlist is unrecognizable compared to the next, and he can swap songs in and out without repeating many on a day-to-day basis. On this night, “This Unfortunate Show” from 2014’s The Ceaseless Sight, “Standing on the Surface of the Sun” from 2011’s Through a Crooked Sun and “Veil” from 2004’s Paper were just some of the standouts from his older records.
He also found a way to reinvent some of his Black Crowes material. Two songs from his old band’s sprawling double record Before the Frost … Until the Freeze popped up in the middle, which Rich adeptly channeling the bluesy stomp on “Kept My Soul” and totally reworking the previously acoustic “What Is Home” into a powerful, bottom-heavy electric tune.
It all works into this authoritative statement. Without making a formal proclamation and wrongly renouncing his past, Robinson has set about establishing himself in the most authentic way possible. He’s out every night, playing music to new crowds, and writing and recording songs on the nights he’s not. What’s obvious, no matter where anyone is standing, is the authenticity that comes through. No longer the totally silent guy on the side of the stage, he’s a quietly commanding presence front and center and typically confident enough to let his songs speak for him.
Selfishly, I hope I wasn’t mistaken for one of the judgmental guys in the back. I tend to stand with my arms crossed when I’m not quickly scribbling something down in my notebook, but I wasn’t knocking him down in my head. I was locked in and enjoying myself while the best version of his band yet helped to push his music to a new place.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org