Review by Dan Hyman
WHO: Tim Robbins and the Rogue's Gallery Band
WHERE: Largo at the Coronet Theatre
As far as musical genres go, folk is not one of the happy-go-lucky, feel-good ones. Yes, many folksy-numbers take on a rather uplifting sentiment. But go down the line–Seeger to Guthrie and Dylan to Denver–these are men venting about the frustrations of life. So, perhaps quite fittingly after suffering through a string of painful years (which we talked about with him recently) actor/director Tim Robbins has now turned to folk music to stop the bleeding.
Since 2008, life for Robbins has been somewhat brutal. The Academy-Award winner added a slew of forgettable roles in disposable films to his resume, lost the financial backing for a movie he was putting together, and ended his 22-year marriage to actress Susan Sarandon. Admittedly, as a result of his turmoil, Robbins decided to pen a batch of old-timey folk numbers. He subsequently checked into a London studio for two days with wily UK musical shape-shifters, the Rogue's Gallery Band, and out popped his self-titled debut. Of course, this is the abridged version– without the sleepless nights, copious consumption of pipe tobacco and all the other trimmings we can only expect from a suffering troubadour.
And yet, for a set of songs seemingly born from such sadness, Robbins performance on Thursday night at the highly-intimate Largo at the Coronet Theatre resembled more of a rejuvenated reemergence than a somber soiree. It's quite clear the man has been reinvigorated by music. While his voice–what Springsteen might sound like while nursing one of life's nastiest hangovers–is hardly a selling point, the intensity and musical dexterity of his six-piece band (who play everything from accordion to piccolo, and violin to clarinet) help liven the tunes from their usual shade of gray.
From the outset, Robbins' gig took the shape of a family reunion. Shadowed by a red velvet backdrop and crystalline Christmas lights, the stage was flanked by portraits of Robbins' late parents, Mary and Gilbert, accomplished musicians in their own right. (Robbins' father was a member of '60s folk outfit the Highwaymen, who scored a Number One hit with “Daniel”). Robbins' brother, David, also happens to be a member of Tim's band, and their sister, Adele, at one point even joined them for a rendition of their parent's favorite song, Irish folk hymn “Wild Mountain Thyme.”
Robbins, in an open-buttoned black linen shirt with dark-stained jeans, was clearly on hand to perform, but this was also a chance for him to come to grips with his parents' recent deaths. Speaking of both their passing this past year, which occurred just one week apart from one another (“It's really sad, but incredibly romantic,” Robbins remarked), the actor explained that they had insisted he “make sure people sing” his songs when he took them on the road. A campy, but admittedly quite entertaining group sing-along ensued to the old Negro spiritual “Mary Don't You Weep.”
Much of the evening was dedicated to Robbins' new album, which, in short, is a collection of hits-and-misses (unfortunately more of the latter). “A Time To Kill,” a soldier's tender lament, inspired by a chat Robbins had with a distraught GI, was anchored by a fiery pedal steel lick courtesy of brother Dave, that echoed Zeppelin's “In My Time Of Dying.” “Book of Josie,” meanwhile, a Bible-inspired slow-burner, was achingly heavy-handed. For “You're My Dare,” the keyboardist pulled double-duty, blasting out a killer trumpet solo. However, shortly thereafter, the mood was again brought to a halt with the somber “Crush on You.”
To put it plainly, Robbins' show largely took the form of a group-hug. No matter the tune, the mood or the level of musical skills presented, the crowd was behind him. It wasn't surprising, really. Because this wasn't your typical concert. And not because it featured a well-known actor performing in the town that made him famous. This was a chance for a man to pull himself up the best way he knew how: surrounded by family and armed with a guitar. Sure, the evening was slow, predictable and oftentimes downright cheesy, but hey, we can't hate on a dude for getting over the hump.
Personal bias: Put me in a coffeeshop with old Woody Guthrie on repeat and I might go insane.
The crowd: Very small. But among them was a healthy mix of Baby Boomers, decked-out females perhaps hoping to snag the attention of one of Robbins' celeb friends in attendance (their only option was a smiley Jack Black) and one group of three punk-rock teenagers who probably thought they were going to see Tim McIlrath.
Overheard in the crowd: “It's so wonderful to see you,” remarked a middle-aged woman, followed by a quick turn-around to resume the conversation with someone she clearly cared more about. Repeat this scene for an entire half hour before the show started and you get the idea.
Random notebook dump: Who the hell would have thought Jack Black was into folk music? I really wish this was a Tenacious D show. Oh wait, Jack Black got his break when Robbins cast him in Bob Roberts. That's why he's here! And shit, didn't Robbins make a cameo in High Fidelity? Is that Ann Cusack sitting next to me? Yes. Yes, it is.
You're My Dare
Queen of Dreams
Crush On You
Book of Josie
Mary Don't You Weep
Wild Mountain Thyme
Moment in the Sun
Time To Kill