Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special - Crescent Ballroom - 7/18/2014

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On July 13, Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special announced through their Facebook page that they would be splitting with their original lead guitarist and chief songwriter Brandon Croft. Furthermore, the band announced that following their headlining date at Crescent Ballroom last Friday the band would be taking a hiatus for an undetermined amount of time.

"We would like to get our ducks in a row and come back with a bigger and better SR&MS," read the post. Quite frankly, I have to agree with that decision. Some time off could be exactly what Robinson and the Midnight Special needs to rekindle the passion that propelled them to local stardom so quickly.

In just more than two years, Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special have managed to headline Apache Lake Music Festival, open for local legends Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at the Marquee Theatre, and just for shits and giggles, open for George Thorogood and the Destroyers in a stadium in Vegas. Friday's headlining set at Crescent Ballroom, which easily attracted more than 230 people, was a testament to the band's success on the local scene.

However, the break with Croft wasn't entirely clean, and though none of the details made their way to social media, judging by the jabs thrown publicly on the Facebook post about Croft and the hiatus it would seem that there were haymakers being thrown behind closed doors. Also, after the show at Crescent it is quite evident that Croft's replacement, Nick Sterling, can use a bit more practice with the band before being thrust into regular action as lead guitar for an act that is right on the precipice of "making it."

Furthermore, and this is not a knock on the talent of the remaining band members, but replacing a lead guitarist is hard, especially one who was so integral to the songwriting process for the band. But it's also true that when a fairly established band like Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special breaks in new members, their fan base provides them a certain amount of leeway with new music. So the group has some time.

Not that Sterling was bad. Considering the fact that he was not announced as part of the band until six days before the show, he was really quite spectacular. But Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special is not a barroom jam band, and being off key for nearly an entire song is not something that is really going to fly. Sterling's voice also didn't quite mesh as well with Robinson's on the background vocals. But that's what the hiatus is for.

Ultimately what Robinson's pre-hiatus show with the new guitarist proved is it does not really matter who's playing guitar for the Midnight Special, or bass, or drums, or keys, Sara Robinson is the star of the show. The girl can sing and there are no two ways about that. Robinson is sporting one of the best sets of pipes in the Valley, and no guitarist is going to outshine that.

Robinson sounded stunning at the Crescent Ballroom, hitting every note with quite a bit of force. The acoustics of downtown's premier music venue were definitely friendly to Robinson's already boomy voice.

Robinson lead the crowd in a rousing rendition of happy birthday for Sterling, she comfortably bantered with the audience, and she even got down with her bad self, busting some moves, and quite possibly dropping it like it was hot at least once. She just looked accustomed to being on stage and comfortable enough to be a front woman and not just a vocalist.

With this last show behind them and time to show the new guy the ropes, Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special should have no problem bouncing back from the guitarist "controversy" and moving forward with the songs that are already written. But a more important question remains to be answered: Can Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special continue to write engaging original music without Brandon Croft?

Critic's Notebook

Friday, July 18: Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special, Banana Gun, Steph and the Articles, and Sunset Voodoo at Crescent Ballroom.

Personal Bias: Sara Black and the Midnight Carl -- wait, they aren't the same band? They don't even share any members?!

Overheard: A lot of Sara Robinson's male fans would like to sleep with her, and are vocal about it ... in side conversations quietly with their friends.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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