Of all the notorious sibling feuds in music (the Gallagher brothers, the Wilson sisters), perhaps the most tragic is the rift between Rich and Chris Robinson, the incredibly gifted DNA that spawned the southern rock-blues rock phenoms The Black Crowes that gave us porchlight gems like “She Talks to Angels” and “Jealous Again” in the early ‘90s. While the Robinsons still have no intention of reuniting anytime soon (to be fair, they tried in 2005 and 2013), there is still hope for their cult of fans.
THE MAGPIE SALUTE
When: 8 p.m. July 28-29
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Earlier this year, Rich introduced a brand-new band in a series of four sold-out shows at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. Coyly called The Magpie Salute (in animal terms, the magpie is a close relative of the crow), it features a good number of the talented musicians that once buoyed The Black Crowes and is the closest we may ever get to a fully reunited band. Among them is bassist Sven Pipien, early guitarist Marc Ford (the glue that bonded with Rich Robinson to create one of the most celebrated guitar duos of the past couple of decades), singer Charity White and long-time keyboardist Eddie Harsch, who sadly passed away last November but appears on The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut.
The substantial 10-piece band also includes drummer Joe Magistro, keyboardist Matt Slocum and backing vocalists Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen (from Rich Robinson’s solo band), as well as third guitarist Nico Bereciartua and singer John Hogg (from Robinson’s short-lived Hookah Brown project).
“It’s really cool to see this new and old energy working together in unison,” says Robinson of the huge undertaking that started when he was invited to do one of the Woodstock Sessions series last fall while touring under his 2016 solo album, “Flux.”
“I had done one previously [it produced an album that was released in 2014], and I wanted to try something different this time,” he says, recalling that his first instinct was to call Ford, with whom he had not spoken in over a decade. “I always loved the way he and I played together. With Marc and I, or the thing my brother and I used to have, there’s definitely an energy you get with people when you have a musical connection. And I just thought everyone is getting older, let’s have no more b——t.”
Though the idea originally was solely to record some covers for the three-day Woodstock Sessions engagement and then have everyone go on their merry way, Robinson says, “Everyone felt good about playing together for the first time in a long time, and felt really strongly about it. There was a lot of positivity in the room and musically it felt right for everyone. It just came about in a very organic way.”
Of the 25 songs the group recorded together in front of a live audience during the Woodstock Sessions, nine of them made it onto “The Magpie Salute” debut album, released June 9. Most are extended covers like the nine-minute funky epoch “War Drums” (War) or the spacey slide of “Fearless” (Pink Floyd). There’s also fresh, jamming takes on Bobby Hutcherson’s “Goin’ Down South,” Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell,” Delaney and Bonnie’s “Comin’ Home” and one original track called “Omission” that in under four minutes redefines the retro revival rock movement. And of course there are renditions of The Black Crowes’ material, including “What Is Home” and “Wiser Time,” songs Robinson is happy to be playing again.
“The truth is, the Crowes got bogged down in so much drama and negativity, and it’s great to be able to play these songs again with positivity and reverence for the music, reverence for each other, reverence for the fans, and also excitement about where this thing could go,” he says, noting the plan is to head back into the studio as soon as possible. “The ultimate goal is make a new record, a double album, with all new material early next year.”
For now there’s an 60-date tour to look forward to this summer and fall, including a two-date stop at Chicago’s Metro July 28 and 29. “The first time I ever played Chicago was with the Crowes in 1990 at the Metro,” Robinson recalls.
Robinson promises each night will be a completely different show with nearly 200 songs to pull from. “We will change the set list every night, jumping from playing Hutcherson to a War song to the material of Agitation Free [a ‘70s German kraut rock band] and then play a bunch of Crowes songs,” he says, attuned to the wants of his audience. “Right now the majority that are coming in to see us are Black Crowes fans and they are hardcore fans,” and while there’s space for that material, Robinson is also looking forward to forging ahead. “But we are also really trying to grow this thing and see where it’s going to go. The nature of The Magpie Salute is to be able to play all this but still sound like us.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.