Chris Robinson Brotherhood

An epic trip that breaks on through to the other side.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood playing a song on stage, standing on a red patterned rug.
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

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**A wooden owl **has a clutch of incense speared into its head, wafting smoke and smells up at a planet-sized disco ball that bounces a galaxy of flickering blue and orange lights onto the ceiling. Giant flags hang at the back of the stage: a third eye, a freaked-out take on the stars and stripes and a luminous marijuana leaf floating above a Californian bear. Bearded and bedraggled, the Brotherhood stand on magic carpet rugs like a Charles Manson identity parade in a student living room. “Thank you for sacrificing your Monday night,” says former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson. “I mean that in a very literal and pagan sense.”

Psychedelia is writ large on tonight’s show – a freewheeling, almost-three-hour country/blues-rock extravaganza. At first it’s peripheral, seeping in at the edges. Tomorrow Blues features a haunting synth, trembling like a theremin, bringing weirdness to the pumping chords beneath. Keys and lead guitar unite for a relatively brief, underwater-sounding solo that bubbles to the surface as the hook kicks back in.

That’s just the come-up; the songs become more expansive and experimental as the set progresses. Nearing the end of the first half, Tulsa Yesterday clocks in at 12 minutes and somehow rolls an India-tinged guitar intro into a distinctly country riff and verse, bleeding into blues-skewed sing-along choruses. A panoply of summery guitar and keyboard-led instrumental sections weave around the song’s backbone, culminating in a high-octane guitar solo from Neal Casal that – though stylistically and melodically unlike anything that precedes it – feels like an entirely logical endpoint.

Detours into funk provide contrast and levity, and are often employed ingeniously – witness a bouncily unrecognisable cover of Bob Dylan’s She Belongs To Me, or a joyous rendition of Slim Harpo’s The Music’s Hot. CRB’s own Rosalee is a crowd favourite, with a funked-up wah guitar hook, country-rock choruses and sections of gorgeous a capella harmonies. With jovially squelching keys and a chooglin’ bassline, Ain’t It Hard But Fair sounds like a brilliant subversion of the Grange Hill theme tune, before swelling synth strings make it something grander.

At three hours – and around 10 minutes per song – the show runs the risk of becoming shapeless. But Robinson and Casal’s skill lies in crafting musical odysseys so meticulous – which morph organically between a wide range of styles, sounds and emotions – that their performance is never less than compelling, and occasionally transcendental.