Chris Robinson walks on stage with a smile on his face and playfully bangs on drummer Steve Gorman’s tambourine. The singer is having fun before the music has even started, and so is his guitarist brother. As if to signify the rebirth of the band, they launch into the first song from their first album, followed by the first song from their next album. The energy level of the six guys on stage is that of a band of teenagers who are just glad to be there.
They want this again. The Black Crowes have never looked so happy to be on stage together, and in hindsight, calling it quits for two years may have been the smartest thing they’ve ever done. They waste no time, of course, in reminding the audience that they do pretty much whatever they want in concert; ten minutes into the show and they’re already playing a song that only a hardcore fan would know. The setlist goes on to include familiar tunes like Remedy, but this night – as has increasingly been the case the longer the Crowes have been around – is less about being radio friendly and more about jamming out to wherever each song takes them.
That means live staple Wiser Time lasts ten minutes or more, after a five minute intro. The ballad She Talks To Angels, one of the band’s early hits, becomes an entirely acoustic number tonight as the band scrunches to the middle of the stage to give the performance added intimacy. After breaking up in an ugly manner in 2002 and reforming in 2005, the band decided two years ago that it was a good time to call it quits again – peacefully this time – with the expectation that they’d likely saddle up again eventually. Word of a reunion came last Christmas, and the resulting tour kicked off a few weeks ago. These early shows depict a band that’s eager to be doing this again, and that’s not a surprise: if the famously feuding brothers Robinson didn’t want to be doing this together right now, they wouldn’t be.
Most of the old band is back together again: the brothers, co-founder Gorman, longtime bassist Sven Pipien, and keyboardist Adam MacDougall all fit together on stage like a glove. Jackie Greene dons a Panama hat and takes over the lead guitar role, replacing Luther Dickinson, who in turn had replaced… the list is too long to recall. The Black Crowes, for whatever reason, have gone through lead guitarists like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. No matter, the songs don’t miss a beat, perhaps fitting in so well because he’s previously toured with both Chris and Steve in other projects. At one point during a round robin jam session in which Jackie lays down a particularly standout solo, Chris looks over in pleasant surprise as if to say “Not bad, new kid.” The audience concurs.
The tour is called “Lay Down With Number 13” after a lyric in the song Under A Mountain, which doesn’t get played tonight. But that’s par for the course: the band simply plays whatever feels right on a given night, regardless of whether it might tie into any promotional strategy. These are, after all, the guys who once got kicked off a tour early in their careers for making fun of its corporate sponsor.
Later shows this year will have Tedeschi Trucks as the opener, but on this night the Crowes take the stage with no supporting act, preferring to keep the entire two-plus hours of stage time to themselves. The closing encore starts off in familiar territory as they launch into their cover of the Otis Redding song Hard To Handle which initially put them on the map. But halfway through the song they suddenly launch into the chorus of the Billy Joe Royal – Deep Purple song Hush, melding the two classics together into a medley that no one in the audience could have seen coming unless they’d peeked at recent setlists. It shows that the Black Crowes, a mere two years away from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame eligibility, still have a trick or two up their sleeve. And for as long as they stay together this time, they’re sure glad to be up on stage again.