Only four years ago, The Black Crowes and Oasis co-headlined the Brotherly Love Tour – the most fittingly named jaunt since hip-hop’s Up In Smoke Tour. Though never as fiery as the Gallagher brothers’ tension, both Chris and Rich Robinson share their own history of creative frustration, culminating in the band’s hiatus following a 2001 Halloween show in Boston. The solo projects that followed were surprisingly smart and creative, but the imminent reunion of the Black Crowes was always heavily speculated, until the real deal was finally announced a couple months ago.
Playing the second night of a “secret” warm up run under the name of Mr. Crowes Garden, the sold out show at Higher Ground proved 800 or so fans were in on the message board secret. Already possessing one of the meatiest sounds in rock, and owning a song book spanning six strong albums, the Black Crowes always stand to be a draw. In their first visit to the state of Vermont, the energy in the building was enlivening, even during this mid-March north-country state of cabin fever.
The new 2005 Black Crowes actually looked remarkably the same and different. Guitarist Marc Ford, returning to the fold after eight years, is sporting a 70’s style shag moustache and mirrors Dickey Betts. Although the Crowes have changed bass players as periodically as Kid Rock switches porn star girlfriends, they have invited former rhythm man Sven Pipien, back into the band. Long-time keyboardist, “Steady” Eddie Hawrysch is also back on keys, along with two female back up singers. Bill Dobrow, who played with Rich Robinson in the short-lived band Hookah Brown, takes over for the sure to be sorely missed Steve Gorman on drums. And of course, the paper thin Chris, and his baby-faced brother round out the new edition.
Playing the role of the bohemian Mick Jagger, Chris with his shaggy beard, beads and shake your money maker stage charm, still plays the lead singer role better than anybody this side of Steven Tyler. Opening with the never before played tune of “Don’t Do It,” both Robinsons traded lead vocals, perhaps a symbol of their new-found compatibility.
“Go Tell The Congregation” and “Soul Singing” allowed the backup singers to reign gospel, although the ladies were somewhat drowned out in the mix of guitars. Bluesy numbers like “Kicking My Heart Around” and “Thick N Thin” were short club rockers, perfect for the small confines of Higher Ground. It’s not easy replacing Gorman who played such an integral role in the band’s sound, but Dobrow was finding his way around the kit in solid yet un-spectacular fashion.
Some of the faster rock songs were clearly scraping off the dust, so it was the slower, timeless tunes that hit home hard. “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” featured Chris nailing the classic intro of “With my winter time/My idols and stage fright,” and it began to set in that the Black Crowes were really back. Segueing into the equally moving “Thorn In My Pride,” the Crowes proved they are truly the sum of their lead singer’s emotive voice. A sweaty jam followed that teased “Sting Me” soon to go back into “Thorn In My Pride,” leading back into a harmonica solo by Chris. Amorica classics like “Nonfiction” and “She Gave Good Sunflower” helped round out the set-list to cover virtually every part of Black Crowes history, soon to be followed by a trembling “No Speak No Slave.” All along, Ford held his licks down on his far side of the stage, often sharing leads with Robinson that would tease psychedelic blurs and bluesy howls.
For the encore, Vermont’s most famous resident, Trey Anastasio and his co-famous resident Langedoc guitar, took the stage to the crowd’s roar. A cover of The Beatles’s “Yer Blues” featured some thick blues riffs, allowing Anastasio to take center stage and trade licks with Ford. A jammed out version of the Otis Redding classic