The Magpie Salute brought its ten-piece ensemble (sometimes eleven, with crew member cameos on congas) into old New England for a Tuesday night stop in the Massachusetts harborside village of New Bedford. The colonial-age city known for its rich maritime history and blue-collar ethic recently has attracted top flight artists to its vintage Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. Complete with dapper-dressed ushers and printed programs, the formality of the theatre belied the attitude of the many who arrived looking for a good, old-fashioned rock show.
Once leading The Black Crowes, guitarist Rich Robinson’s latest outfit bares a strong resemblance to his former group. Flanked by Crowes guitar slinger Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien, as well as harmony singer Charity White, the opening trio of Crowes covers did little to betray that identity. Lead singer John Hogg, in a throwback Velvet Underground T-shirt, pounced immediately on “Black Moon Creeping” and “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” with the swagger of his predecessor and Robinson sibling, Chris, and delivered vocal chops familiar yet distinct.
What plagued the first half of the night was a house sound system that seemed overwhelmed by the sheer power of the three-guitar lineup and the variety of voices, including Ford’s on his “Old Lady Sunrise” and the trio of background singers, whose contributions often got lost in the mix. Nevertheless, a punching threesome of covers mid-set, following a stage crasher who made it as far as the row of floor monitors before escorted off by security, rallied the evening’s rock and roll mission.
Beginning with Free’s “Don’t Say You Love Me,” then Rod Stewart’s rumbling “Every Picture Tells a Story” and Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know,” the band found its footing and an improving mix that spotlighted Ford and Robinson’s equally brilliant lead guitar efforts. But, it was the instrumental centerpiece, a cover of the obscure Agitation Free’s “Laila II,” that provided the concert’s peak. Against drummer Joe Magistro’s unrelenting beat, Robinson and Ford locked in twin-harmony heat reminiscent of the fiery flights of The Allman Brothers Band, their extended jam easily eclipsing the ten-minute mark.
The latter portion of the set was elevated by a note-perfect rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and a host of Crowes tunes. It was Robinson, late in the show, that marked the occasion with a lengthy soliloquy targeting a man in the audience, (theoretical or actual, the audience wasn’t sure), that Robinson said was on Facebook throughout the performance, more interested in photos of puppies than in the human experience of live music. Offering almost a defense of this new endeavor, Robinson warned that if this is not supported, even without “She Talks To Angels” or “Remedy” on the set list, then comes “the Terminator” and it all goes away. With that, the guitarist announced there would be no encore, just two more- “Hotel Illness” and “Thorn in my Pride”- that closed a performance that saw The Magpie Salute battle a muddy mix and a moody crowd with their gutsy, guitar-heavy rock and roll.