No longer content with being the foil to older brother Chris in The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson is exploring what it’s like to be front and center on stage as he tours in support of last October’s Through A Crooked Sun.
With Thursday’s show at the Old Rock House just south of downtown St. Louis as evidence, the younger Robinson is quite comfortable in his current skin.
Armed with an impressive arsenal of guitars, the 42-year-old Robinson filled the one-hour, 50-minute set with a mix of blues-infused rock, pensive ballads and cool covers before an easily navigable weeknight crowd.
“Fire Around” might be the anchor in the running order of his latest solo album, but it opened this show with his cries of “Do you hear me? / Do you hear me?”
One of the best moments of the evening came early on with a cover, as Robinson and Co. offering a nice rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Station Man.” If there ever was a song from the set that sounded like a Black Crowes number, this was it, with Robinson delivering that classic sound in the intro and Steve Molitz’s dazzling work on the keys à la ”Remedy.” Bassist Brian Allen and drummer Joe Magistro combined to give the tune a strong bottom end.
Through A Crooked Sun, Robinson’s second full-fledged solo effort, is chock full of songs with reflective lyrics based on where his life has taken him. One of those, “Follow You Forever,” was written for his father who was diagnosed with lung cancer. In performing the ballad, Robinson peeled away any barriers and did a masterful job expressing his feelings before the band rallied with a big finish to the seven-minute song.
Robinson told the tale of an unfaithful lover with “Falling Again,” but the band deftly gave what started off with a sleepy tone a rock-a-billy chorus and a country tone.
Robinson went back to the cover route and it yielded perhaps his best all-around performance of the evening on Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” While the lyrics weren’t his, his vocals aptly flanked a stirring guitar solo that left many patrons swaying along to the music. There was nowhere for Robinson to run and hide here and he passed the test with high marks.
Though he could have easily peppered the set list with hits from the Crowes (currently on hiatus), the band that he co-founded, Robinson largely resisted the urge. Only “What Is Home” came from the Crowes catalog.
As they reached the homestretch, Robinson and his band delivered “Gone Away,” another track from the new album that features a considerable Tom Petty vibe.
Robinson then bucked tradition and bypassed the typical encore routine before performing a ”Vibeka” and “War Drums” combo, a pair of songs from the band War.
“This is where we go outside and walk around the building,” he said. “But since it’s cold, we’ll just skip all of that and go straight to the music.”
Robinson’s work as guitarist for The Black Crowes speaks for itself. But this album and ensuing tour – he recently returned from a tour of Europe – gives Robinson an opportunity to showcase his other talents and take more of a lead in writing lyrics and music. Though he’s not going to be mistaken for older brother Chris at the mic – if there ever was a drawback Thursday it’s that too often Robinson’s vocals were too low in the mix – performances like this prove that Robinson has tapped into a stream that has enabled him to develop into one of the industry’s best all-around performers.
Memphis, Tenn.-based Amy LaVere hit the stage at 8 pm sharp and warmed up the Old Rock House crowd with a 38-minute set.
The upright bass player/singer/songwriter started off in slap style on her towering bass with the introspective “Never Been Sadder” and continued with the throbbing “Washing Machine.”
LaVere, supporting her latest album Stranger Me, has been through town before (she played Off Broadway in August last year) and certainly knows the landscape. She felt at ease and her charm was evident.
About halfway through the set after playing the title track to Stranger Me, she called out for a fixture on the St. Louis concert scene. “Has anyone seen Beatle Bob?” said LaVere, perhaps wishing the polarizing local with the mop top would try to cut a rug on stage. “I’m disappointed he’s not here.”
Alas, Beatle Bob didn’t make an appearance, yet she still dedicated an old folk song, “Railroad Boy,” to him.
LaVere’s vocal work on the Tom Waits cover, “Green Grass,” was the highlight of her nine-song set. Obviously, LaVere didn’t reproduce the gravely sound of the veteran Waits, but she showcased a seemingly pristine voice that once you hear it, you’ll always remember it.
The Shreveport, La. born LaVere reached back to her 2007 album Anchors & Anvils with “That Beat,” a nice change of pace with a Santana-esque reggae beat with the help of guitarist David Cousar and drummer Shawn Zorn.
LaVere wrapped things up with “You Can’t Keep Me,” a classic breakup song from her latest album. Though on Thursday she dedicated the song to “an evil man I used to work for.”
No different than many other artists, LaVere has paid her dues and she hearkened back to her days working in the service industry and told the crowd they’re not a complete person until they’ve done so. And after the final song, she packed up her gear – in high heels, no less – and went off and sold her merchandise and interacted with fans.
“I’m cutting out the middle men,” she said. “I’m my own merch girl now.”
Amy LaVere set list
1. Never Been Sadder
2. Washing Machine
3. Stranger Me
4. Railroad Boy
5. Green Grass (Tom Waits cover)
6. Damn Love Song
7. That Beat
8. Mr. Spaceman (The Byrds cover)
9. You Can’t Keep Me
Rich Robinson set list
1. Fire Around
2. It’s Not Easy
3. Station Man (Fleetwood Mac cover)
4. Standing on the Surface of the Sun
5. Look Through My Window
6. By the Light of the Sunset Moon
7. Follow You Forever
8. Lost And Found
9. Falling Again
10. Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (Lou Reed cover)
11. Politician (Cream cover)
12. Hey Fear
13. What Is Home (Black Crowes song)
14. Gone Away
15. Vibeka / War Drums (War cover)