“Hello, Rockwood Music Hall!” Robbie Gil growls with gusto, just before he and the band (Greg Mayo, Patrick Firth, Brian Killeen and Zach Jones) get down to business on their rip-roarin’ new live album.
That simple salutation doesn’t just serve as a friendly reminder that these tunes were delivered from the stage and not the studio – it’s a startling reality check. The kinetic energy and raw emotion here sound big and important enough to be emanating from Madison Square Garden, not ricocheting off the imminently more modest walls of an East Village watering hole.
Granted, the previously mentioned establishment has become the taste-making incubator for a new generation of New York-based singer/songwriters. To say Gil is right at home there is both a figurative truth and a literal understatement – he and his band have played its stage every other Saturday night for the past two years at owner Ken Rockwood’s urging, amassing a devoted and responsive audience and racking up critical accolades in the process.
Rockwood’s belief in Gil extends further than offering a coveted residency at one of the city’s prime live music venues – “Robbie Gil and the Band: Live From Rockwood Music Hall” was released on his label, Rockwood Music Hall Recordings.
While Rockwood and the droves of jaded New Yorkers who turn out like clockwork to revel in Gil’s gutsy songwriting and the passion and emotion he and his band put into every performance have had the luxury of seeing and believing, the live album delivers some serious sparks and undeniable electricity that should grab the attention of those not fortunate enough to catch the show in the flesh. It also offers the opportunity to experience Gil’s songs in their natural form – raw and direct.
“I want to burn a straight line to the audience,” explains Gil, talking about his shoot-from-the-hip songwriting and straight-from-the-heart performances. “I don’t put up many walls as far as what I write about. And I really try very hard to give 120 percent of myself every time I play.
“I look at connecting to the audience as an extraordinary thing and that’s my main goal,” he continues. “To connect and to share my experience, my loss and heartbreak, triumph or joy - whatever that emotion is, I want to share it in a communal way.”
While Gil laughs at his early career as a musician as his “Behind The Music” era, those hard-living, hard-partying years weren’t a dead-end when it came to fodder for songwriting. There’s a hard-won depth of both experience and emotion to his tunes, made richer by the hope attained by making it to the other side.
There’s also an honesty and candidness gleaned from the singers and songwriters he grew up on - Springsteen and Petty, Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin, The Who - mixed with the modern sensibilities of artists like Ray LaMontagne and David Gray.
“I believe in singer/songwriters who are trying to say what’s true and what they honestly feel and believe. If it’s real, the audience will get it,” he says. “That’s what I try to do - I try to write things that hit me in the heart. If it hits me in the heart and it’s something that rings true or beautiful, then I know that I’m onto something and that it is going to hit other people that way as well. “
Like Springsteen, Gil firmly believes in the power of giving his all in his live performance – and it shows in this recording. “I’d like people to know that I really do feel that way – that it’s not a put on thing, That I literally physically don’t know how not to give that much,” he smiles “it’s impossible for me to try to mark a show. It doesn’t work. I have to be in the moment of it and I have to give everything I have to the audience. I give the songs as much as I can possibly give them in order to be able to give the audience what I think they deserve, which is nothing short of all of it.”
That passion and dedication is hugely apparent on “Live at Rockwood Music Hall.”
“Rockwood holds 150 people,” he grins. “I’d like to think that the audiences are getting the huge energy of an arena show while feeling the intimacy of a small club.“
Barbara Mitchell, Devil's Apricot