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Black Crowes expand mission with Magpie Salute

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The Magpie Salute — which includes members of The Black Crowes — plays The Fillmore. (Courtesy Shervin Lainez)

The Magpie Salute isn’t just the new 10-member ensemble anchored by Black Crowes founder Rich Robinson. It represents his philosophy that music needs to mean something.

“Songs could bring you joy, get you through sadness, even teach you things about the world. But now that sentiment has been co-opted by so many corporate entities, there’s no difference between a Taylor Swift song and a toaster oven. Art is just shooting for the lowest common denominator; it needs to be on a higher level,” says Robinson, 48, who appears with the band — which includes former Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien — in San Francisco this week.

When he cut The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut disc, he wanted to make it as honest and heartfelt as possible.

The guitarist assembled his players — including vocalist John Hogg and initially Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch (who died not long afterwards) — for three days in Applehead Studio in rural Woodstock, N.Y. In two daily sessions, one electric, one acoustic, they recorded more than 105 cuts, before a ticket-buying audience of fans.

The enthusiasm energized the band’s performance.

With the studio capacity at 100, 70 people were in the tracking room, and 30 were in the control room for the show, which included songs from the Crowes catalog, Robinson’s three solo discs and classic jam-length covers in “The Magpie Salute,” such as The Faces’ “Glad & Sorry,” War’s “War Drums,” Bobby Hutcherson’s “Goin’ Down South,” and a folk-twangy take on Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.”

Only one number, the new “Omission,” was polished, without the crowd, in a studio session.

“The older I get, the more I realize what a gift it is to play with people that you have this really strong musical connection with, like Marc, Sven, or Eddie,” Robinson says. “That’s what’s lost in popular music today, with these vapid little kids that sing useless songs, with no real human experience. You look back on these beautiful historical paintings and classical music, and it was like the heavens opening up and giving people something to look up to.”

Robinson chose the band’s name because the magpie is a showier member of the crow family, and part of an old British superstition that involves reflexively saluting the birds upon sight.

Still, he says, “But you add John Hogg, plus songs that Marc and I are going to sing individually, and it really creates a whole other element that the Crowes just didn’t have.”

The Magpie Salute
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 7, 9 p.m. Sept. 8
Tickets: $35
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.ticketmaster.com

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