Royal Southern Brotherhoood - ArtsCenter (Carrboro, N.C. 6/17/12)
Royal Southern Brotherhood
ArtsCenter, Carrboro NC.
June 17, 2012
By Grant Britt
It’s a strange amalgamation, like Duane Allman and Bad Company’s guitarist Mick Ralphs implanted in the same body, fighting each other for dominance. There’s also a Neville Brother as the soul of the beast, perched on the shoulder of the creature, digging his talons in occasionally to get its attention and have a turn running the organism.
Devon Allman, Cyril Neville and Mike Zito are the frontmen for the Royal Southern Brotherhood, with Derek Trucks’ drummer Yonrico Scott and bassist Charlie Wooten as the rhythm section. At a tour stop at the Carrboro, N.C. ArtsCenter on Sunday, June 17, the band thundered through a ninety minute set at a decibel level that left some audience members hearing impaired for a full day afterward.
Billed as a supergroup, it’s a southern rock band with an arena attitude. Looking like he just rolled out of a boxcar, co-lead guitarist Devon Allman spent most of the evening on the lip of the stage with his replica ‘59 Les Paul signed in Sharpie by Les Paul ( To Devon: Keep Rockin,’ the inscription reads,) trying on rock star poses with his amp set on shriek. Ironically it was co-lead guitarist Mike Zito who had the Allman Brother role, playing fluid, fiery slide that would have made Duane smile. The present Allman sounded like he was contracted to play the theme from Shaft for most of the evening, his Cry Baby wah-wah pedal getting so much use they could have called the band Cry Baby. When he did shift out of blaxploitation mode, he was banging out arena rock chords like Bad Company.
The crowd ate it up. Many of those who collected at the front of the stage to sway to the music looked like they could have been around to do that when the Allmans were first starting up and had come back for another taste. But this band sounds nothing like that one. The Allman riffs came in bits and pieces imbedded in big-boned arena rock. “Gotta Keep Rockin’” sounds like it fell out of Bad Company’s vinyl sleeves, down to the Paul Rogers vocal that Devon adopts for the song.
Cyril, looking dapper in his yellow vest and beret, injected some soul into the proceedings with his vocals on “Fire On The Mountain,” the Allman ghosts materializing as Devon finally gave his wah-wah a rest, crossing over to Zito’s side of the stage for a side by side Dickie (Betts) and Duane style workout.
Although the band calls New Orleans home, there’s not much of a Big Easy feel until Cyril kicked off “Sweet Jelly Donut,” Zito sliding around like Sonny Landreth as the rhythm section threw down some fonky second line riddims. Even though he’s standing at the front of the stage, it was the first time all evening you could hear Cyril’s counterpoint on drums, adding a tasty texture to the mix.
Opening act Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone came back out for a reed-bending solo on “Donut” that kicked even more sizzle into the bubblin’ funk. The title track from his latest release, The Lord Is Waiting and the Devil Is Too, won the 2012 BMA Song Of The Year award. The Anders Osborne-produced record, with a raw, backwoods hoodoo feel, seems to have persuaded Sansone to change his vocal style from his former melodious warble to a growl that gives even his brighter, older material like “Sweet Baby,” from 97’s Crescent City Moon, a sinister cast. But the newer, rougher vocals fit in perfectly on “Poor Man’s Paradise,” the song the New Orleans resident wrote about Katrina, which he describes as the biggest man–made disaster in history.” Punctuated by piercing, soul-shot harp injections, Sansone reveals the cost of living in a po’ man’s paradise: “the little people suffer when the big shots compromise,” he roared.
“This is the fun part,” Zito said as the band came back out for an encore, he and Allman teasing the crowd with snippets of rock classics. Allman played a few bars of Led Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Zito countered with Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water.” Devon ripped off a few licks of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Zito answered with the Car’s “Just What I Needed” before dropping into “Sweet Little Angel.” But he kept going with the melody, bringing Cyril back out to sing a drop-dead gorgeous, soul-drenched version of the B B King classic that’s not only a tribute to King but a homage to Duane and Greg’s ’68 tapes cut as Hourglass, released in ‘72 on Duane Allman, an Anthology.
The older Allman fans in attendance looked like they’d died and gone to heaven, only to be taken still higher when the band slammed into “One Way Out,” with Zito again nailing the Duane part, singing one verse with heart felt, southern soul until Cyril took over, raising the soul quotient to a level seldom found outside tent revivals.
When the music stopped and the lights came up, the crowd looked shell-shocked, many communicating to one another by hand signals, or simply pointing to their ears, smiling and shrugging. And even if they could have heard one another, after a visitation from the Brotherhood, there was nothing left to say.
photos by Grant Britt