With temperatures dipping into negative territory, Chicago — normally bustling with nightlife — more closely resembled a winter dystopia on Friday (Jan. 25). While a fresh coat of snow on the ground and icy roads abound kept the masses from venturing out into the cold, one fearless pack sought warmth from the historic Thalia Hall, where the psychedelic blues rock group Chris Robinson Brotherhood gathered folks together for their Winter Tour kick off — the first of two performances in the icy midwest.
CRB eased fans into a night of spirited tunes, funky grooves and extended jams, starting things off with a mellow take on “New Cannonball Rag” from 2016’s If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now. Guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall provided some sonic color to the Set One opener with a pair of solos that aided in shaping the evening’s communal tone.
“Brave people of the savage land,” said lead singer Chris Robinson, commending attendees on their willingness to endure the bitter, harsh winter elements, which he likened to the movie Tron.
The frigid outside conditions were no match for the cozy, radiant vibe pulsing through the venue as Robinson and company conjured up images of nature’s more hospitable side with live takes of “Somewhere Past the Sunset,” featuring Casal on slide guitar, and the catchy, upbeat “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor.” The latter, one of the night’s finer moments, had fans bouncing happily throughout, much thanks to the tight and cohesive rhythmic contributions from drummer Tony Leone and bassist Jeff Hill.
CRB showcased its penchant for improvisation throughout most of the night, particularly on the trippy rendition of the foot-stomper “Tomorrow Blues” from their 2012 debut Big Moon Ritual and a funky cover of The Coasters’ “I’m a Hog for You,” which featured some slap-happy keys from MacDougall and a soul-infused harmonica solo from Robinson. Casal later effortlessly worked his fast fingers on “Behold the Seer” prior to the group taking a break and returning for a second set including “Rare Birds,” “Vibrations & Light Suite” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed.”
Those looking for a break from the noisy, chaotic outside world found just that at CRB’s Friday night show. The band’s family-like atmosphere and improvisational approach to live music provided the perfect blueprint for fans to unwind and soak up the sounds. The LA-based quintet will perform at Chicago’s Thalia Hall again tonight, prior to heading west with stops in Iowa, Colorado and Montana.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)