Rich Robinson @ The Jazz Cafe.
In the early 1990s, no self-respecting fan of good ole’ southern rock would be without a copy of The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker whizzing away in their CD player. Although the band never quite replicated the dynamic energy of their debut in later releases, there’s no denying the quality of the music that the brothers, vocalist Chris, and guitarist Rich Robinson cooked up in The Black Crowes – and their legacy is secured; listen to any US Classic Rock radio station and they are never more than 15 minutes away it seems.
The Brothers Robinson had established solo works long before the official and somewhat acrimonious break-up of The Black Crowes in 2015. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is an ongoing project, whilst Rich Robinson’s solo material has won much critical acclaim. His most recent 2014 release The Ceaseless Sight had Rolling Stone exclaim: “…so rich in textures and assured in the writing that it sounds like a true debut”. Praise indeed.
Rich toured that album in the UK with a full electric band last year and in 2015 he is back – this time though in stripped back, intimate acoustic form; just Robinson, one microphone and six guitars. I caught him during his UK tour at Camden’s iconic Jazz Cafe.
The support came from Ben Ottewell, one of the three vocalists in the band Gomez. Ottewell part owns a Mercury Music Prize through his work with Gomez, so it came as no surprise that he knows how to write and perform a tune. He also had a great rapport with the audience: “How’s the food?” he asked of the first floor diners in the Jazz Cafe restaurant, “Can you throw a chip down, we’re starving down here.”
A night of acoustic music creates a dilemma for a photographer conscious of not wanting to annoy the punters, as with every shutter actuation it feels like you’re firing a bullet from a gun. Tonight however there was no need to worry about how my actions may upset others’ sensibilities because unbeknown to us all we were sharing the Jazz Cafe with the worlds’ least self-aware roadie. Quite bizarrely, we got treated to the sound from stage right of Rich Robinson’s acoustic guitars being tuned up, one by one whilst Ottewell played out the final 20 minutes of his set. This must have irked Ben, but to his credit he merely smiled, offered thanks for the unexpected accompaniment, and then said his goodbyes.
There being little in the way of gear to shift, the turnaround tonight was brisk. Once Robinson’s right-hand man had worked out how to tape a set list to the floor, Rich made his entrance. “I’m here without a band”, he said. “I must have left them somewhere”. Touché. Opening with song I Remember from the new album, Robinson effortlessly worked his way through his back catalogue, a powerful vocal performance complimenting the fragility of a single acoustic guitar. This format allowed the folk element of his music to shine – songs such as Answers from first album Paper were greatly appreciated by a heaving Jazz Cafe crowd as were a triumvirate of well-chosen folksy covers that formed the middle part of the set. Bert Jansch’s Black Waterslide, Buffalo Springfield’s Kind Woman and Dylan’s Sign On The Window were all dispatched in great style and led into the latter half of the performance, which featured some more of the newer material.
The newer stuff had more of a rock edge to it and gave rise to the only electric (well, semi acoustic, electric) guitar that we saw tonight, a rather beautiful red Gibson ES335 – put to great effect during In You, a song with delicate fingerpicking one minute and crashing distortion the next.
The crowd had to wait until very close to the end to hear any Black Crowes numbers (Oh Josephine and What Is Home), but if they came looking for that, they were missing the point. Rich Robinson was clearly a man very comfortable laying his own material bare and whilst there may have been a nod to his past, he didn’t seem interested in being defined by it. “This is one from my last record”, he said, introducing another number from The Ceaseless Sight. “Or maybe I mean my latest record”. Let’s hope so.
Photography & Live Review by Simon Reed. Simon has his own great website here:
Rich Robinson @ The Jazz Cafe, Camden, 30 September 2015.