If rock ‘n’ roll history tells us anything, it’s that brotherly love doesn’t necessarily apply between brothers. Ray and Dave Davies, Mark and David Knopfler, Liam and Noel Gallagher. If you invited them round for tea, it would be as well to give them paper plates. You can add to that list Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes, whose creative differences meant the wheels were off the ‘Crowes wagon between 2002 and 2005, and have been detached seemingly permanently since 2014. With the atmosphere between the brothers Robinson currently on the prickly side of incendiary, you’d probably get better odds on Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un enjoying a nice game of Scrabble than you would Chris and Rich sharing a stage any time soon.
Fortunately, for those that crave an authentic Black Crowes experience in 2017, help has arrived in the form of Rich Robinson’s new musical project The Magpie Salute; a band as close as you can get to the original short of acquiring an animatronic Chris Robinson and programming it to sound like the real thing.
The lineup is as follows (strap yourself in): playing alongside Robinson is Marc Ford. Ford, guitarist in the band Burning Tree (a support artist on the ‘Crowes Shake Your Money Maker tour in 1990/1991) promptly quit Burning Tree and joined The Black Crowes for the three seminal albums that followed.
Bassist Sven Pipien is also ex-Black Crowes, as is backing vocalist Charity White and as was keys player Eddie Harsch; who would be here had he not sadly died late last year before The Magpie Salute had played a live gig. Harsch’s replacement is Matt Slocum from Rich Robinson’s solo band, though he has played with The Allman Brothers and Susan Tedeschi amongst others.
Joe Magistro behind the kit is ex-drummer in Robinson’s solo band, whilst also having a previous professional association with backing vocalist Kattrine Ottosen. Ace Argentinian slide guitarist Nico Bereciartua and backing vocalist Adrien Reju have no previous connection to either The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson, Joe Magistro or Marc Ford; but vocalist John Hogg, ex of the band Moke, supported the ‘Crowes in the ‘90s and was in previous short-lived Rich Robinson formed four-piece Hookah Brown. Got it?
With this number of connections to the original band, it’s hardly surprising that interest in this series of London gigs (originally one date, became four consecutive dates) was very strong.
But I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, Under The Bridge. I must say, this is a strange venue. Imaginatively titled, Under The Bridge nestles beneath the East Stand at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea FC – a place hitherto unknown for its musical heritage, save for frequent renditions of ‘Who’s The W*nker In The Black’ on alternate Saturdays. Described as a ‘purpose built, intimate venue’, it has all the charm of a prophylactic vending machine and the most weirdly anal security I’ve ever encountered: “No personal effects to be placed on the stage” (fair enough I suppose); “No beverages permitted if you’re in the front row” (what?!?). It’s probably the only music venue on earth to have hand moisturiser in the gent’s toilet, but at least being brand new it did have decent lights and sound in lieu of any other redeeming features.
I got here at doors to nab a place under Rich Robinson’s guitar rig in the front row. The fans here are really devoted. To my right are a group of Americans, to my left a couple who have come especially from the Netherlands. Beyond them, a guy from York who is here for all four dates and told me he’s seen The Black Crowes over a hundred times. I discover he named his son Christopher Richard. I cannot imagine why…
A number of people are here for all four dates because the set list changes every night and is only revealed just before the band take the stage. In fact, the list is taped to the floor but covered with a blank sheet of A4 above. Anyone in the front row could remove the top sheet to get an advance view, but nobody does. Part of the thrill is not knowing what you’re going to get until the last second and everybody wants to play the game.
What we got was two sets and two hours of glorious Black Crowes nostalgia, interspersed with original material from Rich and Marc’s back catalogue, plus some tasty, well-chosen covers. In Omission, we even got a slice of Hookah Brown. The first half had a number of highlights. The set started with Go Faster, an aptly titled song that flies and was just such a blast to hear live. Badge Of Descension, one of the Marc Ford tunes featured some sublime slide from both Nico Bereciartua and Ford, allied to some creamy Matt Slocum Hammond organ. Slocum featured again with a beautiful piano outro in Descending, which brought a moving nod to the passing of Eddie Harsch from Robinson in one of the rare occasions when he broke silence between songs. Finally, we had the spellbinding wah-wah thrashing Marc Ford solo that closes She Gave Good Sunflower, which also closed the first set. I’m not surprised they took a break.
When they returned, it was just Rich and Marc with a pair of acoustic guitars to play Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz. The pair were joined by Hogg for What Is Home and finally by Bereciartua for Wiser Time. I looked around during the acoustic section to find Matt Slocum and Sven Pipien watching from the crowd. It was that kind of night. The full band returned for a final rock out that included a closing six comprising entirely of Black Crowes material. I have to say that provided you stood in the right place in the venue the sound was remarkably good for a ten-piece band with three guitarists. Hogg isn’t Chris Robinson, but then neither is he trying to be and given it’s a hell of a pair of shoes to fill, he did an admirable job.
Final number of the night was the rousing Remedy complete with its crashing three chord descending run into the chorus and coordinated dancing from the ladies stage left. Rich gave a short speech about the importance of the music being played, that was really just a very thinly vailed dig at his brother. Would I like to see a ‘true’ Black Crowes reunion? Well, yes – but not if it was at the expense of the artists on stage being at ease with each other and actually being able to enjoy what they’re doing. In the absence of that possibility, I’ll take ‘the next best thing’ in the form of The Magpie Salute any time, thank you.
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. The Magpie Salute at Under The Bridge on 14th April 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk