The Black Crowes Kick Off Reunion In New York City
“I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it.”
The Black Crowes reunion began on Monday night at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, where Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson shared the stage for the first time in nearly six years. Chris, Rich, bassist Tim Lefevbre, keyboardist Joel Robinow, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and drummer Raj Ojha tore through all 10 tracks from 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker before serving up a debut cover of The Rolling Stones‘ “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)” as the evening’s lone encore.
The unlikely reunion came after both Robinson brothers were in attack mode over the past few years. Chris and Rich both said many nasty things about each other publicly. Then, when they did decide to perform together again, the Robinson brothers made the unpopular decision to recruit an all-new band to back them for a 46-date 2020 tour to honor the 30th anniversary of their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. On Monday night, the talking was over, the baggage was left behind, and the music was the focus.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., The Black Crowes took the stage to a powerful roar from the audience as James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” played over the p.a. and lit into “Twice As Hard.” The chemistry between the brothers was palpable immediately. Rich played the song’s signature riff as Chris belted out the lyrics with a passion and energy that belied his age of 53. Chris embraced his return to the frontman role throughout the night in a way that truly added to the music and didn’t distract, while Rich sounded as precise and tight as ever.
The set continued with a goosebump-inducing version of “Jealous Again” that saw Chris and Rich share the mic and smiles at various points of the song. While The Black Crowes kept songs concise, there were a number of moments where the band members had opportunities to shine. Isaiah Mitchell was a revelation on guitar especially when he had a slide in his hand. Mitchell’s first solo of the night in “Jealous Again” was an impressive display of soaring lead guitar work, dirty and greasy with a bluesy bent. Tim Lefevbre held down the bottom end in the typical “make it look easy” fashion he displayed so often during his long tenure with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Joel Robinow played with the barrelhouse style needed for the material on Shake Your Money Maker.
Raj Ojha did a capable job behind the kit, but the absence of Steve Gorman was more noticeable than any other difference between the current lineup and past lineups. Ojha had the parts down yet was missing the soul and feel Gorman brought to the Crowes. It will be interesting to see how he grows into the position as the tour rolls along. Another place the Crowes need to improve is on the backing vocals. At some points, the band nailed the harmonies and at others, they were off-pitch.
Chris acted as narrator throughout the set in bantering between songs. He talked of how good it felt to be back on stage and must’ve said the words “rock & roll” at least 12 times. After an impactful “Seeing Things” loaded with emotion, Chris dedicated “Hard To Handle” to original artist Otis Redding. The Black Crowes crushed their breakthrough single as the crowd sang along. At one point, Robinson turned the mic to the audience who yelled out the chorus. On Monday, there would be no jammed-out transition into “Hush” as the Crowes did so often in their final years and Chris did with As The Crow Flies last year. Instead, the sextet romped through the song with a powerful ease.
By the time “Thick N’ Thin” hit, it became obvious the band was indeed performing Shake Your Money Maker in the order found on the album. The Crowes nailed the “She Talks To Angels” that followed and this was one of many moments where it was so special to watch Chris sing the lyrics he wrote and Rich play the parts he wrote after years of believing they would never perform together again. Chris then took a moment to tell the crowd they would witness a performance of a song the band hadn’t played since their early days as an intro to The Black Crowes’ first rendition of “Struttin’ Blues” since October 14, 1992.
A solid if a bit sloppy “Stare It Cold” brought The Black Crowes’ set and complete performance of Shake Your Money Maker to a close. The band returned to the stage for their debut take on The Rolling Stones’ 1974 hit “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It).” The sentiment was appreciated following years of discord and so much controversy surrounding the reunion. The Brothers Robinson are back with a killer backing band and if they are able to keep the good vibes from Monday night flowing, next summer should be a good one for The Black Crowes.
It’s Only Rock N’ Roll Captured by L Ron Jesus
She Talks To Angels Captured by L Ron Jesus
Sister Luck Captured by Josh Daniel
Could I’ve Been So Blind Captured by Josh Daniel
Twice As Hard Captured by Dirty Rock
Set: Twice As Hard, Jealous Again, Sister Luck, Could I’ve Been So Blind, Seeing Things, Hard To Handle, Thick N’ Thin, She Talks To Angels, Struttin’ Blues, Stare It Cold
Encore: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)