“There’s a thrill upon the hill, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” These were the first words out of Chris Robinson’s mouth when he took the stage at Neumos Saturday night, and they served more as an invitation than a simple lyric. “Come, join us, Capitol Hill,” Robinson seemed to beckon, “as we depart on this wild ride.” Of course, in all likelihood, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood had no idea that it was playing in Capitol Hill, but that is ultimately of little consequence. The words felt right, they struck a chord with the audience, and when it comes to honoring the ethos of the blues, feeling is what matters most.
After its eight-minute rendition of Hank Ballard’s “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go,” the Brotherhood settled into the first of two roughly hour-long sets replete with frenzied solos and goosebump-inducing harmonies. Said harmonies took center stage four songs in, as the band eased through one of the more melancholy offerings from its debut album Big Moon Ritual, “Star or Stone.” At several key moments, Neal Casal, Adam MacDougall, and Mark Dutton all joined Robinson as vocalists, crafting rousing two-, three-, and even four-part harmonies. When coupled with the underlying blues progression, the multivalent vocals of “Star or Stone” oozed Southern soul, paying homage not only to the blues, but to gospel music as well. Somewhat surprisingly, this tempered, almost ethereal performance proved to be one of the night’s most memorable moments. Not a frenetic solo. Not an extended jam. A ballad. Unexpected? Yes. Disappointing? Most certainly not.
Several songs later, the Brotherhood launched into their most experimental composition, “Vibration & Light Suite.” The song’s breakdown saw the band shift into a straight rock groove for the first time, making way for a Casal solo influenced more by Tom Morello than by Duane Allman. It was a pleasant change of pace from Casal, and his dexterous deployment of various otherworldly effects illustrated why he has become such a sought-after session player.
Without pausing for applause, the band transitioned the “Suite” into a staple of its shows, Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.” Covering such an iconic song can be a tricky endeavor, but the Brotherhood swung its way through the rockabilly classic with just enough nonchalance to avoid coming across as kitschy. The conclusion of this trip to the sock hop marked the beginning of the show’s intermission, or as Robinson so idiosyncratically put it, the band’s “quick California break.”
The “quick” break lasted the better part of half an hour (must have been some slow-burning grass), and, to be frank, the energy in the room suffered considerably. The first three or four songs of the second set bordered on tepidity, but oh, did The Chris Robinson Brotherhood rebound. A rollicking performance of “Sunday Sound” complete with maracas and tambourines galvanized the fading crowd, signaling Robinson’s intention to keep the party rocking. The band responded to the reinvigorated atmosphere and stormed through three more high-energy jams, concluding the second set with perhaps their most well-known song, “Rosalee.” As is customary during finales, the Neumos lights roared to life, illuminating both the crowd and Robinson as he repeatedly mused, “Is the air getting thinner, or are we getting high?” The question merited little attention – the answer’s quite obvious – but in the moment, just minutes past midnight, there was little, if any, spare attention to be given, as all of it was inexorably focused on the five men on stage.
After “Rosalee,” the Brotherhood rushed through a twelve minute, three song encore, saying their final goodnights at 12:39am, more than three hours after they first took the stage. As advertised, the show was more than a typical concert. It was an event. An “evening with.” A thrill upon the Hill.
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