By PATRICK O’HEFFERNAN
The beloved actor Rob Morrow bought his funky country blues band RMB to the Santa Monica Playhouse’s community theater stage, playing for a small audience as part of the gig by the extraordinary, eclectic country-jazz-pop band We Are the West.
This was WAW’s second concert at the historic playhouse as part of the Playhouse Sessions, a concert production which raises funds for arts education and community outreach in LA. It was the first time I had seen RMB and Morrow and they were hot!
RMB has been around for some time and played at local LA clubs like The Mint, the Viper Room, Molly Malone’s and even at the Venice Beach Art Walk. Rob himself is a crackerjack guitar player, first class songwriter and a proficient singer. The band – Carlos Calvo on guitar and also co-writer and backing vocals, Sam Aliano on drums, Carlos Costa on bass, and Jason Libs on keys – is also crackerjack. They play like they have been doing all their lives with Morrow, modulating their input to keep the vocals forward while laying down solos when the flow calls for it.
Completely at home on the tiny stage with fans sitting three feet in front of him, Morrow engaged us with his self-effacing smile, twinkling eyes, stories of songs of people, banter with the band, and just plain joy at being there during the 12-song set – ten originals and two covers.
RMB followed We Are the West, which has made a name for itself through experimental music and a monthly concert in a parking garage with perfect acoustics. A duo of John Kibler and Bret Hool, they pull together an elastic family of players on drums and percussion, woodwinds, strings, brass, pump organ, and accordion, and then add to it their wide network of friends, which includes Morrow, for original concerts found nowhere else. Haley Reardon, a young singer from Nashville performing for the first time in LA opened the evening with heartfelt songs delivered with breathy precision, including her perceptive and I suspect conversation-inducing take on “America The Beautiful.”
Morrow’s set launched with a new song, the acoustic “What Have We Become”, which was not on the original set list but since they just recorded it, why not? He switched to the electric guitar, shot out a couple of riffs demonstrating his damn good guitar chops, and the band rolled into “Good As Dead” with Rob unleashing a blistering riff torrent as the music reached a crescendo. They followed with the more melodic and twangy “New, New Face” and a funky “Man With Many Names”, prefaced by a shout out to We Are the West.
After a little band banter with guitarist Carlos Calvo, himself a Hollywood legend who has trained stars like Adam Levine, David Duchovny, Ambyr Childers, Marg Helgenberger, David Oyelowo and others to play guitar, the band launched into a jumpy “Look At Me” with a deceptively low-key intro, then moved on to “Out and About”, which Morrow told us was featured music in an episode of the TV show, The Fosters. Next up was the emotional and insightful “Tryanny of Beauty”, accented by a hot solo riff from Calvert. Working like the well-oiled machine it is, RMB delivered a hooky original, “Then it’s Gone”, that got us all going . Rob took a break to tell a funny story from his teenage years about sneaking into the Candlelight Bar before he returned to the twang with “All You Do”.
Ever the entertainer, Morrow told a Springsteen story and rocked the Springsteen classic “Dancing in the Dark,” introducing each of the band members during the last half of the song and giving each some solo time. He wrapped the evening by bringing the musicians up on stage and leading them through a very enthusiastic group rendition of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with red hot guitar solos, boogie woogie piano licks, a rocking baseline and happy audience participation. But onstage with a guitar and his bandmates, all that goes away.
After the show I asked Morrow which he like better, acting or singing. He said that playing and singing live was a spiritual experience you just can’t get from a camera. It was a spiritual experience for us too, although the wave-your-hands-in-the-air kind, not the eyes-closed kind. Rob Morrow, who makes great movies and TV shows, really makes great music and has a good time doing it. He will be releasing a single around the end of June and a full album end of the year. In the meantime the band has live dates coming up in June and July. I can hardly wait.
Rob Morrow Band https://www.facebook.com/RobMorrowBand/