Nineteen Ninety does not seem all that long ago. I was a young man of 26 years when The Black Crowes debut album Shake Your Money Maker hit record stores. Now a not-so-young man kicking 60 in the ass, I can still remember buying that record and listening to its raunchy guitars, slick vocals and the undeniable staying power over and over again. Planned for a year ago and derailed like every other traveling minstrel excursion, the tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of that momentous record finally was able to proceed. A worldwide halt to live music wasn’t the only stumbling block to The Black Crowes hitting the road again. The several year feud between the two founding brothers and only original members of The Black Crowes Chris and Rich Robinson was settled, paving the way for this to happen a year ago. Thankfully, with the hatchet buried and a return to some semblance of normalcy, this roadshow was restored and made its way to The Forum in Inglewood, CA on August 19th.
After a red hot opening set by L.A. locals, Dirty Honey, who are accompanying The Crowes on the entire trek, The Forum anxiously awaits Robinson, Robinson and Co. The stage is expansive, sporting a jukebox, from which a young couple select the Elmore James song of the same title as the tour. The backing musicians sit at the bar, complete with bartender at the back left of the stage. The musicians push back from the bar and assume their positions as Rich Robinson, alone in a spotlight at stage right, scrapes out the opening riff of the album’s opener, Twice As Hard. When the entire ensemble kicks in, Chris Robinson leaps up from his sitting position on the drum riser, sashaying about with the band-branded umbrella behind which he had been hiding.
The sound is rich and thunderous as they grind out their unique brand of gritty southern blues. The Robinson brothers are backed by a quartet of seasoned pros: lead guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Sven Pipien, keyboardist Joel Robinow and drummer Brian Griffin. The stage also contains a bayou shack porch from where the two background singers contribute their dulcet tones. The Black Crowes started as a true band, but have for the most part evolved into the Robinson brothers with backing musicians. While Rich is more of a sonic force, make no mistake, this is The Chris Robinson Show. He struts like the cock of the walk, dances and gestures with his entire body as he belts out the lyrics to these classics. A consummate front man, Chris is a non-stop Energizer Bunny throughout the entire performance. The combination of the expert musicianship and Chris’ command of the stage, make the performance of the record in its entirety seem over in an instant.
They blast through the running order of SYMM and get the expected reaction to Jealous Again and She Talks To Angels and of course Hard To Handle, the Otis Redding cover that put them on the world map. All of these are timeless songs you still hear on the radio. A couple of pleasant surprises were a few of the songs you don’t hear very often on the radio. First of those is the ballad Seeing Things For The First Time, which feels almost like a church revival with the organ and the background singers accompanying the chorus. The other pleasant memory jog is Struttin’ Blues, a high testosterone rocker with a cool guitar riff behind the chorus of “Got my head spinnin’ round, wonderin’ when it’s gonna stop.”
Although the performance of their initial offering may seem over in a heartbeat, don’t despair, they remain on the stage to deliver six more songs from their career. Pleasing the crowd with tunes like No Speak No Slave and A Conspiracy, The Crowes show they were no one trick blackbird. The set culminates in what is probably their most recognizable number off their sophomore effort, Remedy. The group returns to the stage to impart their alternating night homage to The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. On this night, instead of Hey, Hey What Can I Do, they deliver an up-tempo rendering of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It). All in all, this night, 31 years in the making was a memorable event. The money makers may not shake quite as well as they once did, but whose do after that much time? Let’s look forward to the 50th anniversary tour, if we’re all still here.
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