By no means is the Chris Robinson Brotherhood a nostalgia act, but there is certainly something refreshingly nostalgic about their approach and presentation of the music they play. It’s one of simplicity. No bells. No whistles. Just blues and rock n’ roll dipped in a batter of modern day psychedelica.

The band embraces the blueprint of the Grateful Dead, playing tons of gigs and dabbling in patches of improvisation all uniquely their own. Now with the dissolution of the Black Crowes in the rearview mirror, Chris Robinson and the CRB are stepping on the gas so far in 2015 with a Winter Tour running through the midwest and northeast, including a stop at The Paramount in Huntington, NY, as part of the venue’s ongoing Jam Series.

This past Sunday, this group of American throwbacks found themselves at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, PA and treated the crowd to a good ole’ fashioned Sunday throwdown.

The first set started with a sequence of CRB staples: “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Tomorrow Blues,” and a cover of the Black Crowes’ “Tornado.” After getting warmed up and the juices flowing, a groovy, up-tempo take on Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” ensued. New CRB drummer Tony Leone showed up early and often, having an excellent show all night long, supplying a healthy dose of tight-knit grooves and beats. From there on in, the crowd was fully engaged with the show.

The first real exploratory jam occurred mid first set during “Meanwhile in the Gods…” with a monstrous and ambient Dead-like jam that seemed to flow on forever. It’s moments like these when this band really knocks you on your socks. The chemistry these guys have is really special for a group that has only been together since 2011 off and on. Robinson’s right hand man/guitar player Neal Casal is one of the most unsung talents in the jam band community today, and can shred at a moment’s notice. He works with care and precision, and feels what he plays. When the two hooked up for this jam, the renovated church in the shadow of Pittsburgh was transported into a different stratosphere.

The first set rounded out on a bluesy note with “Tulsa Yesterday” from CRB’s 2012 Big Moon Ritual that reached some unforeseen heights, as the band blistered through the song with a purpose. It was followed up with a new tune, “Roane County Banjo,” and finally a grand version of “Beggar’s Moon” that appropriately closed out a very entertaining first stanza.

The second set opened just as the first did, with an old time blues cover; this time it was Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” Clearly Chris Robinson came to rock away his blues at Mr. Smalls on this evening. Versions of “Shore Power” and “About A Stranger” from CRB’s Phosphorescent Harvest followed, as well as a powerful rendition of “One Hundred Days Of Rain.” These were nice a change of pace in the flow of the show. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall was sharp all night and when given space, really excelled at adding his own funky flair to the mix. His sound is not one you’ll run into often except for a great pysch-rock band like the Brotherhood.

The centerpiece of the second set was “Vibration & Light Suite.” This tune has really become one of the strongest in CRB’s repetoire. The really opened up on this one, too, blending rock, blues and some funk elements for a super charged jam that changed tempo and pace as it progressed. Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle” came next, and c’mon…is there anyone that handles the vocals on this tune better than Chris Robinson? It was arguably the crowd’s favorite song of the night. The finality of the show featured a deep and spacey “Burn Slow” and fittingly enough “Sunday Sound,” a Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud cover, but all was not over… the band encored the Grateful Dead’s classic “Sugaree.” Is there anything better than a sing-a-long to end the night?

The Black Crowes may be gone, but Chris Robinson is here to stay. Be sure to catch them at The Paramount in Huntington, NY on February 19th. [Tickets are still available]

[All Photos By Ben Petchel]