Black Crowes co-founder, Rich Robinson rolled into Napa’s lovely Uptown Theatre this weekend along with his handpicked band to perform songs off of his critically acclaimed album, “The Ceaseless Sight.” The night began for a handful of lucky Bohemian contest winners with a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s rehearsal process which included a taste of songs that were to be performed that evening. The group was then escorted into the theater’s courtyard, where they were treated to an intimate acoustic set provided by a rather under the weather Robinson, who apologetically stated that the set would be solely instrumental due to the fact that he needed to rest the vocal chords for the evening’s performance. The informal set was followed by a brief meet and greet with the performer and a chance for guests to have their memorabilia signed by Robinson.
At around 9 p.m. the band emerged onto the unassuming stage, save the musical instruments and necessary accoutrements. For Robinson it is all about the music. This latest album is an amalgamation of life experience and a story of musical evolution. It is evident that Robinson is in his element, with the guitar (which he changed with almost every new song) on the stage playing his music. Like the earlier acoustic set Robinson performed, there was an intimacy to the show, as if the musician were letting us into his arena, his vulnerabilities portrayed through the music.
Robinson says he is in a very positive place in his life and wants that optimism to be reflected in the music. At one point in the show, he invited those guests still glued to their seats to get up and move, which they did, motivating almost everyone in the crowd out of their seats and onto the floor. It didn’t take much considering the band’s high-energy performance.
Before he took the stage I had a chance to interview Robinson:
“My first record was more of an experiment,” he said. “I had just stepped away from the Crowes for the first time in my adult life, but I still had all of these songs and I didn’t want them to go to waste.” Not wanting to go through the arduous process of putting a band together, Robinson decided to write the music and lyrics himself and take lead on vocals. “For PAPER it was more like, let’s just see how this goes, you never really know until you do it.”
Immediately after that first solo record came out, the Crowes re-united and the band went back on tour. During this time, Robinson felt more comfortable singing, so by the time he was ready to put out his second solo album, “Through a Crooked Sun,” he had become more confident in his abilities. “By the time that record (Through a Crooked Sun) had come out, I had been through a lot, I had just come out of a divorce, and I had a lot more to say. It was more of a reflection of where I had been in the last five years.”
This new album (“The Ceaseless Sight”) is more about “moving forward” according to Robinson. He had lost most of his equipment and guitars in Hurricane Sandy, which was more of a sign to him that it was time to move on more than anything, “I felt slightly relieved. It was very cathartic in a sense.” The lack of instruments of course did not deter him from making another record, “I went in to make this record with, literally four or five guitars, something I had not done since I was a teenager, and it felt great. I found myself feeling more positive about (this experience).”
Although the album began almost spontaneously there is a cohesive quality to it, which Robinson credits to his longstanding relationship with drummer Joe Magistro (who also performed on “Paper”) “I know what he’s going to do and he knows what I am going to do, it’s very intuitive. Being in a band is being very intuitive and knowing where things are going to go.”
The album was recorded in Woodstock, where he had recorded previously with the Black Crowes, so it felt only natural to record this new record in an environment that was familiar and comfortable to him, “I tap into something there. I like the energy of the place.”
It only seems appropriate that the milieu would reflect his commitment to creating work that is authentic and sincere. In a cultural climate that reveres fame it can be difficult for an artist who actually want to create something substantial.
“It is easier for bands to get started now and just put their stuff on YouTube. There are a whole faction of kids out there who are making some really good music, but there are a lot of people making really, really shitty music.” Robinson declined to give specific examples. He adds that a lot of the bands out there seem to be devoid of anything that is in some way, culturally or artistically relevant, “Where are the Bob Dylans? For years, artists have strived to create something greater than themselves (until recently). There is a responsibility, as an artist to try not to suck.” Robinson adds that he can’t “write things for other people. (That is) flawed immediately.”
Consider this your final heads up: BottleRock Napa Valley is coming to kick out the jams in wine country like never before.
Kicking off with Macklemore on Wednesday, May 8, the festival continues through Sunday, May 12 with a lineup rivaling that of any other major festival: The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Flaming Lips, Jackson Browne, the Avett Brothers, Bad Religion, Jane’s Addiction, Zac Brown Band, Furthur, Dirty Projectors, Primus, Kings of Leon and many, many others. A comedy lineup with Kristen Schaal, Tig Notaro, Jim Gaffigan, Rob Delaney and more is on tap, as well as tons of food, wine and other summertime kickoff fun.
This Monday, BottleRock presents Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) in person at the Uptown Theatre, screening his film Sound City and conducting a Q&A. Tickets are $100, but in keeping with the BottleRock mission at large, it’s a benefit for autism causes. You can grab tickets here. (UPDATE: Last-minute rush tickets will be available at the door for $25; line starts at 6:15pm.)
Dave Grohl in Napa? Announced at the last minute? Is there anything these crazy BottleRock guys can’t do? Be in the presence of Nirvana royalty on Monday, May 6, at the Uptown Theatre. 1350 Third St., Napa. 6pm. $100. 707.259.0123.
A few weeks ago, we announced out Built to Spill Cover Song Contest. Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve chosen a winner: Thomas Gonzalez, from Windsor, with his lovably bizarre version of “Carry the Zero.”
I admit—listening to Thomas’ version, about 15 seconds in I was like, “This is the worst thing I have ever heard.” We had some pretty funny debates around the Bohemian office about it, actually. What was up with Thomas’ voice? Why did it sound like an acoustic Matisyahu outtake? How was he going to handle the climax, where 5,000 guitar tracks smash into the mix all at once?
But hang in there and keep listening, because a certain atmosphere is created—one that definitely doesn’t exist on the original. Every ridiculous thing about Thomas’ version of “Carry the Zero” is what makes it special. Rather than a straight replication of the Built to Spill style, he truly inhabited the song and made it his own. For this, he wins two tickets to Built to Spill this Saturday night at the Uptown Theatre.
Picking a winner wasn’t easy, because the two runner-up entries are good, too. Here’s Kirana Peyton‘s version of “In Your Mind”:
…and Ben Guerard‘s double-vocal version of “Big Dipper”:
Both runners-up win high-fives, and the affirmation that they are awesome.
Thanks for entering, everybody!
Travel back in time 30 years ago and tell the average “Whip It” fan that Devo would still be relevant in the year 2012, and you’d probably get a totally 1980s “Barf Me Out” in response, accompanied by a conspicuous lift of the Vuarnets.
But as proved by a comprehensive hour-and-a-half set at the Uptown Theatre in Napa on Sunday night, Devo has every reason to exist, still, years after their debut album. They played with urgency, decidedly unlike a bunch of old guys going through the motions, and they delivered song after song that, in whole, left a statement about the hopeful nature of humankind and the ultimately hopeless fate of the world.
That might sound bold in reference to five guys with energy domes on their heads, but bear with me.
Devo threw potato chips all over the audience. Devo went through six costume changes. Devo had a huge video screen backdrop. Devo ran up and down the aisles with pom-poms. Devo dressed in airbrushed unicorn shirts, masks, radiation suits and knee pads. And they played the hell out of every era’s songs: “Girl U Want,” “Mongoloid,” “Peek-a-Boo,” “Goin’ Under,” “Gates of Steel,” and many, many more.
“Most people here know that de-evolution is real,” said Jerry Casale at one point, “but when you’re up here in wine country, you get the feeling that de-evolution missed just a little patch. The wine gods shined down.”
“Uncontrollable Urge” was the obvious rock moment of the night, while their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” was probably the best surprise—not that it was played, but that it sounded as weird as the very first time. “Mr. DNA” climaxed with a guitar solo ending in the total whammy-barification of all six strings. Snap!
But the tiny details, the little lyrics like “It’s a place to live your life!” from “Planet Earth” (like Santa Rosa’s official slogan, “The City Designed for Living”)—those are what makes Devo great. During an intermission, the video screen played a public service announcement about the world: “A tiny infintesimal speck of sound in this vast, incomprehensible universe . . . an insignificant dot with a lifespan too short to measure . . . and on this planet earth, there is Devo . . .”
Of course, “Jocko Homo” was great, with Mark Mothersbaugh encouraging audience members one by one to sing the “We are Devo!” response into his microphone; after all these years, it still has all its power. And at the end of the long, comprehensive set, “Beautiful World” ended with Mark Mothersbaugh throwing 100 superballs out into the audience, all of them bouncing off the chairs, the walls, peoples’ heads. It was surreal, it was fun, and it was most decidedly Devo.
A major coup for the Phoenix Theater: Animal Collective, the experimental-indie Brooklyn ensemble whose crossover hit Merriweather Post Pavilion topped critics’ lists and was named Album of the Year by Spin, Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly, will be headlining the Petaluma venue on Sunday, April 10. On a brief California jaunt before playing Coachella, the band is sure to sell out the venue immediately when tickets go on sale Thursday, March 10, at 4pm. Hit up the Phoenix Theater site for browser-refreshing action.
Say it together: Primus sucks! And yes, they’re playing at this year’s Harmony Festival. Having last played Sonoma County at the Phoenix in 2003, the band is sure to thrill patient fans as a just-announced headliner. Along with the previously announced Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, new additions to the lineup for the June fest include G. Love and Special Sauce, Natcha Atlas, Ghostland Observatory, Roots Underground, erstwhile festival staples Michael Franti and Spearhead and many more. Tickets and full details are at www.harmonyfestival.com.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival, bouncing back from its near-death at the hands of a now-resigned-in-shame board, boasts a roaring lineup of jazz greats this June: Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson, Bennie Maupin, James Newton, Fred Hersch with Julian Lage, Arturo Sandoval, George Cables, Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Ray Drummond and many others. See www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.
Other quick mentions of upcoming note: The Kate Wolf Festival brings back Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Bruce Cockburn and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in June. The Uptown Theatre in Napa has Gretchen Wilson (March 20), the Psychedelic Furs (May 5) and a strong comedy lineup with Lisa Lampanelli (April 1), Bob Saget (May 6) and Joan Rivers (Aug. 26; tix on sale March 10).