The Magpie Salute

September 13, 2017
Fonda Theatre
Hollywood, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette

Let the naysayers declare that rock is dead. As long as a few old-school practitioners with the right chops keep it real, rock ain’t going anywhere. That’s what happened in the early 90s when the Black Crowes broke. Over 25 years later, key members of the family are keeping the flame lit with a new configuration called the Magpie Salute.

The band reunites guitarist Rich Robinson, who co-founded the Black Crowes with his brother Chris, with two former members — guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien. The three are joined by a vibrant coterie that includes singer John Hogg, drummer Joe Magistro, guitarist Nico Bereciartua, keyboardist Michael Bellarlead and backing vocalists Charity White (who sang with the Black Crowes), Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen.

Together, the 10-piece ensemble made their Los Angeles debut at the Fonda Theatre for an audience hungry for no nonsense rock 'n roll. For over two hours, the music kept coming, and the faithful kept lapping up a set of mostly Black Crowes songs, as well as a feast of material from Robinson’s other band Hookah Brown, his solo albums, Ford’s solo albums, and deep-rooted covers.

At the crux of this union are Robinson and Ford. The two forged an unyielding lead and rhythm guitar tag team in the 90s — similar in execution and style to that of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor when the Rolling Stones were bestowed the title of 'World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band' — and recorded now-classic Crowes songs like “My Morning Song,” “Sting Me,” “Wiser Time,” and “Sometimes Salvation,” all of which were rolled out in Los Angeles.

Having Hogg handling the lion’s share of the vocals (Robinson and Ford also took the lead singer spot on a handful of their own tunes) certainly helped to solidify the spirit and vibe. The London native’s powerful pipes kept the audience enraptured, while the band behind him stretched the textures of a predominantly heavy blues-based repertoire with plenty of room for playful improvisations and all-out jams. Ford calmly, resolutely bent his strings around a pliable swag of in-the-pocket riffs driven by Robinson and company. It all made for an infectious, continuous groove that had the whole room swaying like hippies on a farm.

Of note, “Omission,” the lead single from the Magpie Salute’s debut album, lifted off with Robinson’s punch-in-the-gut chord sequence, while Ford twisted and turned effervescent lines of counter melody to subdue the song’s inordinate thrust. Meanwhile, covers of Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole,” Muddy Waters’ ‘Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan’s “Time Passes Slowly” and Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” prove the band isn’t afraid to tackle anything others aren’t prepared to touch. Be it The Band, Faces or Bob Marley, here’s a band that wears its influences on its sleeve.

And just to show everyone they have a soft spot, the acoustics came out at mid-point, allowing Ford and his wife Kirsten to sail through “Shining Again” while Robinson filled in the gaps on his Telecaster. Robinson also got his turn in the slow lane, as Ford tagged along and Bereciartua added some tasteful slide. The rest of the players eventually rejoined and all bets were off until 11:15.

It wasn’t until the end of the main set that Robinson finally addressed the audience at length. “We’re on a mission to play real music,” he said before introducing each musician and winding down. It was indeed a night of “real music” — a rarity in a world of Auto-Tune, Kardashians, info wars and fake news. The Magpie Salute aren't going to sell millions of records or top the charts. What they will do though is keep the last vestiges of rock breathing for a little while longer. And maybe, just maybe, keep it going for upcoming generations in search of something with brawn, purity...and hope.

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