By: Dennis Cook
The Black Crowes have never been a band overly obsessed with their past, resistant to endlessly sifting through the rubble to make sense of what's been or refute claims about the band. For this long-lived bunch, the road ahead, the next curve, the next sunrise and song have always been the marks on the horizon that kept them moving. However, as they hit their 20th anniversary in 2010, the Crowes are explicitly examining what it means to be this band and no other.
|The Black Crowes|
Croweology (released August 3 on the band's own Silver Arrow Records) culls 20 cuts from their voluminous catalog and gives them often radical acoustic reworkings. It's a joyful reminder of what a rich songbook they've composed and a showcase for the chops and ingenuity of the lineup that's gelled over the past three years - Chris Robinsion (vocals, guitar, songwriting), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Steve Gorman (drums, percussion), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals), Luther Dickinson (guitar) and Adam MacDougall (keys, vocals). This fall they've embarked on a lengthy, arduous live schedule, cheekily dubbed the "Say Goodnight To The Bad Guys Tour," where they're diggin' into anything & everything in their repertoire and playing an acoustic set followed by an electric set most nights. After the tour culminates in a six-night run at The Fillmore in San Francisco in December, The Black Crowes are going on an indefinite hiatus.
So, how's it feel knowing this is last haul for a spell?
"I feel great about it, but I'm probably the most adapted to The Great Unknown [laughs]. The abyss doesn't scare me," says Chris Robinson. "If anything, it adds to a focus and dynamics for the shows. I don't think the band is going to go away forever or break up or anything, but there's not going to be any new Black Crowes music out there for a time and we don't have any plans to get back together. So, I think it's just about enjoying this tour and having our moment of accomplishment for being just warped enough to stick around for 20 years and get into this music and celebrate it. Face it, it's not about anything else but that."
"[Greater perspective on our history] would require some sort of group Gestalt therapy [laughs]. We can go to Esalen and get into a hot tub and figure it out," quips Chris. "Maybe it's different for everyone else, but I'm having fun. If it was tedious I don't think we'd have bitten off such a big piece [this fall]. No matter what our internal problems may look like or seem, we want to play music and we want to have the best shows we can. Within that, everyone is on the same page. Our musical brotherhood is pretty tight, and I know you don't just walk away from this group, these songs or this mythology now. But, taking a vacation from it is just pragmatism at its finest."
It's heartening to find the band in such a positive place, which clearly hasn't always been the case with the Crowes. This break emerges in striking contrast to the last time the group went on hiatus in 2002, which occurred under heavy emotional & creative stress. This time, the pause after the December shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco seems natural and necessary for the Crowes' long term potential.
"I think we've had a pretty interesting career. To do the things we've done and gone the places we've gone has really been a cool thing. I've really been very interested in looking at that. It hasn't been just a flat fuckin' line," offers Rich Robinson. "We've made some tough decisions and stuck with it and it's been pretty cool overall."
|Rich Robinson by Josh Miller|
Based on the evidence of Warpaint, Before The Frost…Until The Freeze, Croweology and a slew of officially released live material, the previous three year hiatus was nothing but ultimately positive for the band in creative terms. While it took a few years to shake things down to present circumstances, it's clear to serious longtime fans that the Crowes have never been happier or more consistent in their music making than this current chapter.
"The last few years, especially since Adam and Luther joined, have been SO progressive and SO fulfilling in so many ways. The last three records, to me, are as strong as anything we recorded at any time," says Chris. "Adam and Luther come into the situation without any weird ego or resentments. It's all out in the open and it's about this musical conversation instead of this other bullshit. In those terms, it's been the best. These last three albums were the best studio sessions we've ever had."
"I think we're ourselves for the first time ever in the past three years," observes Steve Gorman. "Everyone was finally ready to say, 'Fuck it,' and embrace who we are and what we are. Everyone's been there at different levels at times but we've never all been there at the same time before. This is the most cohesive this band has ever been, onstage and off. It's a time in the band's arc where things are more in sync than I would have thought possible even five years ago. This is as good as it's ever been. I'm such a sports, team-minded person and there's nothing better than playing together with one mind. That's how you get something done. You don't have to always see eye-to-eye, you just have to be able to look out in the same direction and say, 'Let's go there.'"
"Personally, I play better with this band [today] than I've ever played because I'm able to. I couldn't listen and play and predict and feel in the moment in 1997 the way that I can now. It's night and day. I couldn't give that band half of what I'm able to now, just as a musician," says Gorman. "There's a lot that goes into that. It's not just Luther's better than Marc or anything like that, it's that everybody onstage is dialed in with everybody else onstage in a way we never were before."
|Steve Gorman by Josh Miller|
Stripped of the majority of its hindering baggage these days, the Crowes' focus remains resolutely on the music they make together, with the songs and their care being the central hub. Independence from record labels, industry suits and the like has done nothing but firm up their always-independent streak, with the result being one of the richest, most extended stretches of growth in the group's history.
"I feel everyone has reached a place where we just kind of accept each other. That's really what it is," says Rich. "It's been tumultuous [since we returned from the hiatus] but I think it's been cool. We've gotten to focus on who we are. After 20 years you have to ask, 'Who are we?' Are we jam band? A classic rock 'n' roll band?' No, we're really just The Black Crowes. It's really hard to be individual in rock, and a lot of the time we didn't make the easiest decisions for our success. But we are the way are because of that. Although we had huge success when we were young, we've always had an independent spirit that really came more from an alternative headspace than anything."
Today, The Black Crowes give off a distinct sense of pleasure in simply making music that permeates every note, as obvious in the studio as it is in the flesh.
"I couldn't agree more," says Chris. "Why force your hand? A snake can't crawl on glass. You know what I mean?"
Continue reading for thoughts on the current tour ...