Chris Robinson Brotherhood stirs the jam in Tahoe

Chris Robinson plays in the Crystal Bay Casino's Crown Room on Feb. 19, 2017. Tahoe Onstage photos by Clare Foster

Quintessential jam bandleader Chris Robinson plays in the Crystal Bay Casino on Feb. 19, 2017.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Clare Foster

Photographer’s notebook: Here’s the thing about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood: It just keep getting better. Every show is better than the last one. That being said, tonight was was full of magic and love and goodness. Surrounded by a family of friends, hugs a plenty, and music to fill your heart. This band is well polished in its creative individuality, and well loved. On the final song of the first set, “Sunday Sound,” with Adam MacDougall unleashing his wow talent on the keyboards, and Chris Robinson dancing — it was some sort of beautiful. – Clare Foster, Feb. 19, 2017

LAKE TAHOE — Most national touring bands that play Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room describe the experience as a high point of any given road trip, and Chris Robinson Brotherhood is no exception. That said, keyboard player Adam MacDougall does view the venue with a certain amount of chagrin, due to a mishap that occurred on a recent visit.

“Man, I totally ruined the photo shoot that we had in Tahoe,” he said. “It was in the summer, I went down to the beach and swam, which, the water’s really, really, really cold, but I did it. It was amazing. And I didn’t think about a sunburn because it didn’t feel like a beach really, it just felt like a normal day in California. So I got completely red-faced, and there was no amount of Photoshop that could fix it. I ruined the whole photo shoot with my big lobster face.”

It’s OK Adam. Orange is the new red.

Clare Foster

Adam MacDougall, left, and Chris Robinson in Tahoe onstage.

CRB is MacDougall, Neal Casal (guitar), Jeff Hill (bass), Tony Leone (drums) and, of course, Chris Robinson of Black Crowes fame. The group came together out of an experimental project in 2011, and has been active ever since. The group released its fourth album “Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel” in July 2016, as well as an EP, “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now,” in November.

Both projects were recorded at Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach, housed in a building that made a strong impression on the band.

“It just overlooks the bay, and Bolinas, a little surf town. The place was built with all reclaimed materials,” MacDougall said. “The guy was a crazy Mormon person who built the house himself out of bits of the street from San Francisco. He’d go down with a truck to the junkyard or the place where they break up rocks and take rocks. So the house is built, some of the rocks, you can still see asphalt on them. Then the rest of it, the timbers are all from a shipyard, so it smells, you know, how ships smell.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood liked the locale so well that after a New Year’s show with Phil Lesh, the band returned to lay down tracks for an as-yet untitled album, due out for release later this year. With Leone and Hill joining the band in 2015 and 2016 respectively, these 2017 sessions were the first time that CRB had made a return trip into studio with the entirety of the new lineup.

“This record was really cool because we really had a thing, and we had been touring, and this lineup is now solid and we know each other really well,” MacDougall said. “I would say the biggest difference was the confidence coming in.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood also shook up its instrumentation a bit for this most recent go-around.

“This last record that’s coming out was initially designed to be more of a stripped-down, acoustic thing,” MacDougall said. “So Neal’s got some banjo and stuff and I play a lot of piano, and Tony got to play the mandolin quite a bit.”

The recording process was done at a rapid pace, with the band working smoothly and efficiently to create and record the tracks.

“I’ve never really worked that fast, never written that fast,” MacDougall said. “We would start with one chord progression and then end up with a whole chorus, bridge and everything else within a half-hour or so, and then Chris would run outside and come up with some lyrics, go sit out in the trees and then run back in with his notepad. We got stuff done really, really fast.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood is a self-described psychedelic rock band, with its fair share of jamming, and its ultimate goal is to keep the crowd moving.

“I would say it really is a boogie if we get down,” MacDougall said. “People dance, they dance all night. We’ve been trying to just find the boogie in everything that we play.

“For me I’m always trying to find a little bit of humor and a little bit of boogie, whatever it is. So we’re always on that mission, and it’s fun, it’s a get down.”

Neal Casal on guitar. Or is the guitar on him?

Neal Casal on guitar. Or is the guitar on him?

Improvisational content is a key component for the band, although not all of the jam portions are off-the-cuff.

“I think even some bands that are super jammy, some of the bits that seem really jammy are actually quite scripted,” MacDougall mused. “For this band, because we’re pretty lazy, when it comes to the moments when nobody knows what they’re doing, that’s real. So with us it’s a very polar difference. The parts that are scripted are very scripted, but the parts that are not? We have no idea what’s going to happen.

“If it goes my way, if we really get into some real space where you lose time and tone, and just free associate sounds and whatever for a while, that’s where I love to be. So if we get there in a night I’m happy.”

Another core element of Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s live performance is the mindset of outdoing oneself musically, night after night.

“I love getting it right,” MacDougall said. “Every show is a chance to show up the last one, you know. It really is like that, still. I think we’re really lucky to feel that every night. You touch on something one show, and everyone looks around and goes ‘whoa, that was really rad,’ and you know you won’t remember it, but you know the next night you have to do something to get that feeling back, or more.”

For his part, he’s primarily stoked about beginning to perform this newest batch of songs in front of live crowds.

“It sounds pretty cheesy, but I’m super excited to start playing these songs,” MacDougall said. “We’ve just been playing them at sound check, and I know we can’t play all of ‘em. We’re gonna sprinkle a few ones out there but we can’t play the whole record until it’s released, so I’m looking forward to actually playing all of these tunes and seeing where they go.”

His current favorite? “Blue Star Woman.”

“It’s got a thing that we haven’t really done before, and it’s kind of silly,” MacDougall said. “It’s got a real silly wiggle to it. I don’t know, there’s no pretension about it, it’s kind of openly funny. I think that when we play it everybody just feels good because it’s just kind of a little silly ditty. It doesn’t have any heaviness to it, there’s no drama. It just feels really good. And every time we play it, in the audience, everyone kind of just goes ‘woooo.’ Everyone seems to feel the same thing we do, so I like that.”

-Josh Sweigert

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About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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