Neal Casal always dreamed he’d end up in a band like Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
The guitarist, songwriter, author and photographer has a lot up his sleeves in terms of what he can break out onstage and said the band gives him the chance to showcase that, night after night.
“Psychedelia is a big part of our roots as a band, so we’re always finding ways to, like, throw some weird shit in there,” Casal said.
The Brotherhood came together under the California sun in 2011 when Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson was wanting something new during the Crowes’ hiatus. Meant to be an in-state experiment, the band quickly mounted a 118-date tour across the country in 2011. It’s been recording music and jamming onstage ever since.
Tonight, it’ll play The Lyric Oxford for the first time. Casal has played on the Square before at Proud Larry’s but said there’s always more to learn about Mississippi. The Brotherhood released its latest album, “Barefoot in the Head,” in July 2017 and is now on the road across the South to debut it live for fans and anyone looking for something he or she might not see every day.
“We’re better than ever,” Casal said. “We have a better lineup than we’ve ever had, and we’re touring our new record, which is by far our best.”
The 10-track album runs relatively short for a disc recorded by a psychedelic rock group. It’s 45 minutes of Americana-esque tunes, dipping in and out of both acoustic picking and electric, psychedelic sounds, all with Robinson’s crisp, powerful voice on top. Casal said the shorter songs on the album are products of the band having less studio time, but that resulted in a much-needed, concise piece.
“We started out with the idea that it was going to be an acoustic record, and then it turned out to be sort of half an acoustic record and half electric record,” he said.
Casal plays banjo on a handful of tracks, such as the moralizing “High Is Not the Top.” Just when the listener gets settled into the Brotherhood’s use of vocal harmonies and acoustic strings on the album, the swampy keys, laid-back guitar riffs and fat bass fans are used to come back to get the dance floor grooving.
Over the last two years, Casal has had the chance to stretch his legs musically, playing with both pseudo-Dead tribute band Circles Around the Sun and supergroup Hard Working Americans alongside the rhythm section from Widespread Panic. He’s since had to bow out of Hard Working Americans because of tour scheduling but still dabbles with Circles, which he co-founded with Brotherhood keyboardist Adam MacDougal. The pair formed the quartet to record house music for the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” concerts in the summer of 2015 and has since taken it on the road for a handful of short tours.
“CRB is what created Circles Around the Sun, if that makes sense,” Casal said. “We’re trying to feed some of that back into the CRB. It’s just, like, this cyclical kind of thing.”
Grateful Dead fans at the Santa Clara shows in 2015 responded overwhelmingly well to Circles’ music, and Casal released more than two hours of it as an album that fall.
“Incredible thing, man. Incredible thing to be a part of. No doubt about it,” he said. “Something I never could have predicted in my wildest dreams.”
Fans can expect to see a mixture of different genres and definitely some psychedelia on stage tonight at The Lyric. Casal said the band’s rhythm section has pretty legitimate jazz roots, and combined with his affinity for American blues, there’s a lot going on. Since 2015, the Brotherhood has picked up Tony Leone on drums and bassist Jeff Hill, who Casal said have made it stronger than ever.
“I think we comfortably sit on branches that we were once reaching for, and now we’re reaching for higher ones,” Casal said.
It’s been a long journey since the band’s tour-heavy beginnings in California, and Casal said that’s part of the reason the band members are firing on all cylinders right now. They’ve grown together and now have a group of fans Casal said will catch flights to see them play.
“We turned it into something that means a lot to us,” Casal said. “We’re kind of a family, you know.”
Doors at The Lyric open at 8 p.m. tonight, and Chris Robinson Brotherhood should be taking the stage around 9 p.m. Tickets are $30-$35 on The Lyric’s website and will be available at the door if the show does not sell out.
“Come out to our shows and dance, man. It’s easy,” Casal said.