Watching Chris and Rich Robinson perform together during Birds of a Feather: Live at the Roxy, prompts the observation that performing without the Black Crowes is the best thing the founders have done for their band in recent memory. The tour that brought the Robinsons to the Los Angeles club reaffirmed the bond between them as musicians as well as blood-relatives. Only facetious references to family friction appear in remarks Chris makes early in this two-hour plus concert video and it’s wholly belied by the in-tune (literally and figuratively) approach of he and his brother (not to mention the bemused reaction of the latter).
There’s a versatility the singer and his guitar-player sibling display that seems to come naturally as The Robinsons augment themselves only sparingly with other instruments in addition to their own acoustic and electric guitars. In fact, though the background vocals of Mona Lisa Young and Charity White never really become intrusive, there is no noticeable loss without them, while the appearance of sax player Dave Ellis, no doubt looking good on paper, disrupts the stripped-down approach of the duo concept.
The stage doesn’t exactly become crowded with either the soulful singers or the horn man present, but the intimacy that arises form the interplay between the Robinsons is rare indeed. Songs of Lowell George (“Roll Um Easy”) and Tom Rush (“Driving Wheel”) appear alongside familiar original numbers such as “Cursed Diamond” and “Jealous Again.” Chris’ vocals gain resonance when not awash in the din of electricity, while Rich reveals himself to be more than just a facile rhythm guitarist in the deft way he navigates the acoustic piece he wields much of the set.
As satisfying as is this disc (packaged in a set with an audio cd also available separately to invite more repeated playings), Live at the Roxy begs the question of including this kind of performance within the larger presentation of a Black Crowes show. Given the disarray that befell the band earlier this year when Marc Ford and Eddie Harsch left the lineup, the unity evident for the duration of Live at the Roxy, suggests such an offering would set just the necessary tone.