The Magpie Salute bring their high-flying revival to New England
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The opening “Midnight From the Inside Out” was gigantic. It was a fastball to the chin, a huge, roaring wallop buzzing out of three guitars.
It was a symbolic return for the opening song from the Black Crowes’ 2001 record, Lions. Within the first 30 seconds, my friend looked over at me and matter-of-factly said:
“That’s a song I assumed I’d never hear again.”
And so we have the genesis of The Magpie Salute, a collective made up of four former members of the Black Crowes (five, including associated percussionist Joe Magistro, and six with the late Eddie Harsch, who played on their debut record). Led by guitarists Rich Robinson and Marc Ford, the band was an effort to carry on the music of their former band while reaching for new heights and possibilities. And it importantly gave new life to an entire catalog of songs that seemed dead in the water. It’s part celebration, part revival, and the early returns have been tremendous.
Behind the full-throated voice of John Hogg, those tunes have been reclaimed as new trails are blazed. A veteran of another Robinson band, the short-lived Hookah Brown, Hogg shares the band’s sense of adventure and seems willing to travel as many roads as possible. They’ll play those thundering open chords and pivot to an earthy acoustic set. They’ll give new life to instrumental passages and drawn-out solo sections. They’ll put some tight punch into a three-minute song.
Whatever is happening, they’re visibly enjoying themselves. Over two nights in Boston’s Wilbur Theatre and the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in New Hampshire, Robinson played the role of an enthusiastic music director, calling out quick hand signals in between guitar chords and solos while smiling all the way through his beard. It’s an unusual sight for those who grew used to his stoic stance during the Crowes’ era, but it’s infectious. And it seems to help the phoenix-like rise of the group.
Hogg himself is an inspirational punch behind the mic. Most of the attention will naturally flow to how he handles the classic Black Crowes material, but his strength may be better better displayed elsewhere. Their original tune “Omission” is already starting to grow and stretch beyond the limits of its recorded version, and Hogg is comfortable improvising along with the rest of the band there. Robinson’s “Places” has been recast as “Black Cloud,” with lyrics by Hogg and a long coda that nearly serves as the seed of a new song itself.
But his interpretive skills are impressive, to be sure. In Boston, an acoustic cover of “Gasoline Alley” by Faces-era Rod Stewart was a sight to behold. With just Robinson and Ford on acoustic guitars behind him, Hogg threw himself into the song, belting out at full force on the song’s “Going home, running home” refrain before pulling Robinson himself into the mic to join in its “down to Gasoline Alley where I was born” resolution.
He went a step farther in Hampton, roaring through two Steve Marriott classics. First there was a rollicking cover of the Small Faces’ “Rollin’ Over,” but he demolished the crowd with his take on Humble Pie’s “Rollin’ Stone.” Howling out the verses with possessed soul, he mined his full register to give the stoned blues classic the guttural weight and emotional lift it needs to move beyond just vocal gymnastics. He was roaring, and he left the crowed with jaws agape in stunned rapture. He routinely takes on the work of iconic vocalists — Stewart, Marriott, Mick Jagger, etc. — and he does so fearlessly, to the point that he becomes the primary focus.
Beyond that, part of what lends so much power to the band is in how varied the vocal approach can be. Of the 10 musicians on stage, eight have microphones, and Hogg’s soulful attack is balanced by Ford’s gritty vocals, Robinson’s cooler style and the full harmonies within the trio of Charity White, Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen. It feels communal and celebratory in a way that Robinson’s past work never had.
That playfulness becomes palpable during the show. Robinson will often walk over to the other side of the stage to engage Ford or bassist Sven Pipien, laughing while also directing traffic for all the moving parts in the band. He nods and sends cues to the singers standing stage left. Ford and guitarist Nico Bereciartua prod each other and occasionally point out that one or the other just briefly plugged into the wrong amp.
Past the goofs and laughs, the band moves as a force. They stretch out songs, whether it’s the Crowes’ “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” or “Exit,” and stop and spin on a dime, as on the Rolling Stones’ “Let it Loose” or Robinson’s own “Trial and Faith.” Despite having so many people on board, they’re so tight and locked on the same groove that they sound like a much smaller, quicker unit. It all drew a positive response from the crowd.
“We really appreciate you guys coming out and being open minded, and not worrying about who is on stage and who isn’t on stage or whatever it is,” Robinson said in Boston, clearly alluding to his brother and former partner Chris Robinson. For now, that casts a shadow over the proceedings. But there’s a visible light here, and the music takes up and lifts off beyond the darkness. Clearly, a band just trying to cash in on the Crowes’ fame wouldn’t be trotting out unreleased gems like “Words You Throw Away” or “Bitter Bitter You.” Those songs are all part of a songbook they view as fair game, and they’re slowly adding new material to that as they go.
“This is a two-way street. We’ve all been together in the same room a lot, right?” he said. “So we’re up here playing this music — old music, new music — and we’re just having fun.”
And there’s a long way to go from here. Following up the covers-heavy first LP and this tour will reportedly be an attempt at a double album of original tunes in 2018, where Hogg, Robinson, Ford and company can further collaborate and see just how far this new group can go.
That’s the future, though. In the present, this band is impressive and can play just about anything. And on any given night, you’re likely to see them happily try everything, because there’s no reason not to. This is not just a celebration, it’s a revival.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org