The Black Crowes announce their return to the road with a fury
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Back from a two-year hiatus designed to give individual band members a break from the rigors of touring and, apparently, force me to listen to something other than Amorica every other day for a while, the Black Crowes are back on the road and rolled into the House of Blues in Boston’s Fenway section on their first tour since 2010’s “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” jaunt, half acoustic/half electric shows that flaunted their versatility and helped them go out on top, in case it worked out that they truly were going out.
Happily, they weren’t. With new lead guitarist Jackie Greene in the fold, the band is whipping through venues with a setlist that’s heavy on material from their first three albums and tearing through songs at a torrid pace. Now, two years away in the music world is not the death sentence it was even 20 years ago, but if that’s enough to provide the kind of motivation to go out, prove themselves and tear it up this much, so be it.
And, with the Boston show as evidence, they are tearing it up. Chris Robinson, while less chatty than he has been previously, still has tremendous power behind the mic, bringing years of ragged soul and spirit to each song. Brother Rich Robinson is as versatile on guitar as ever, forming a dynamic three-headed rhythm monster with longtime bassist Sven Pipen and drummer Steve Gorman. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall is as inventive as he’s been since he joined the band in 2007. Greene’s style is fluid and timeless, and fits in with all of this nicely.
I’ve always enjoyed the fact that their setlists have always been so varied; a weird track from The Lost Crowes or an obscure Little Feat cover always seemed as likely as “She Talks to Angels,” and that’s helped keep the band fresh. And while the setlists on this tour have been varied, this night in Boston saw a number of their early classics stacked up against each other. Those records are the cornerstones of their sound and much-loved among fans, and therefore it’s easy to see why they’re back and as prevalent as they are.
But obvious strategies for reintroducing the band to concertgoers aside, the sheer force of hearing that many solid tunes consecutively was jarring. This was more than a carrot to the casual fan; it’s a reaffirmation of the Robinson brothers’ strength as songwriters.
“Jealous Again” kicked it off with an extended introduction before the familiar first lines, “Cheat the odds that made you/Brave to try to gamble at times,” with the words bunched up in a way that was just as much Southern America as it was New York City. It’s debut-album buddy “Thick N’ Thin” followed, and before long, they’re off on a clutch of riffs.
There were surprises tucked within the folds of familiarity, though. “She Talks to Angels” featured a mostly acoustic arrangement, with Rich Robinson on an acoustic guitar and Greene moving closer to center stage with a mandolin. They continued their love of deep covers from the late 1960s with a version of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” that sounds as if it could have been the band’s mission statement. And the band worked a roaring cover of Deep Purple’s “Hush” into the middle of an extended “Hard to Handle” and turned up the party vibe in the room just before they ducked backstage prior to the encore.
All that, though, set the stage for an unpredictable encore, featuring two gems from 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm — “How Much for Your Wings?” and “Bring On, Bring On” slammed into each other with a little segue jamming, followed by the colossal crunch of “Oh Well,” which sent the faithful out the doors and onto the rain-drizzled Lansdowne Street, another show in the bag, another mile to climb on the road back.
Less than 12 hours later, I found myself back on Earth at my computer, counting down to 10 a.m., when tickets for their next stop in Boston would conveniently go on sale. Because if the Black Crowes are back, then the bus keeps rolling and a summer tour is on. And, very loudly, the Black Crowes have announced that they’re back, hits and all, weirdness in tow, hiatus be damned.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org