The Crowes (and rock ’n’ roll) return to Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The Black Crowes
A month after seeing the Black Crowes at the Providence Performing Arts Center on September 29, 2001, the band traveled back to the area for a Halloween show at the Orpheum in Boston. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t get anyone to come with me. I was upset, but I sucked it up, thinking that I’d get another two or three shots to see them the next summer. These guys were road dogs, they’re always on tour, and of course they’d be back in 2002. Right?
Wrong. They went on hiatus. AKA, they broke up.
Steve Gorman went to L.A. for studio work, Rich Robinson went on to a few underwhelming projects, Chris Robinson’s solo work was abominable, and the rest, well, who knows. I knew that my Crowes were MIA, and that’s all I cared about.
MIA, until this March.
Now, in the name of journalistic integrity, I should disclose that I love this band. I could sit here and try to be a neutral party, but I can't honestly do that. I wouldn’t convince anyone, including myself. But in that sense, I’m likely to be a lot more critical of these guys than most. So, with that in mind, here’s a tale of a fan who saw one of his favorites in action again.
The band had been dropping subtle hints for months (the re-activation of their website, Chris and Rich each canceling their tours, etc.) that a reunion was in the cards, but the surprise when they announced their week-long run at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York was still colossal. I couldn’t make it to the city to see those (due to my rent-paying job), but I hedged my bets that a full-scale tour was in the works.
It was, and on May 10, the Crowes trotted into Boston’s Orpheum Theatre and back into my life.
Opening were the 22-20s, a garage-rock band from the UK. They set the tone for a rollicking show off perfectly with a tough, distorted swagger. Singer/guitarist Martin Trimble had total control of his instrument, wringing drastic notes and chords from a beaten Telecaster like it was a toy, while the rest of the band laid down a rock-solid core behind him. It was a mix of all the best aspects of Jet and Kings of Leon without any of the frills.
And while they were excellent, they weren’t who I was here to see (though I have since picked up their disc). With the room blackened, the sight of candles rose up above the subtle hush of Ed Harsch’s organ. Quietly, the rest of the band filled in, and when the slow, rolling intro morphed into the swinging “Greasy Grass River,” Chris Robinson pranced in, stage right, mic stand in tow. Looking like George Harrison from the cover of Abbey Road come alive, Robinson belted out the song and everything else that night. Three minutes into “Greasy Grass River” was enough evidence to show that these guys haven’t lost a step. Throw in the fact that guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien were back in the band (not to mention Gorman, who had been absent the entire tour until their stop in Atlanta), and the blueprint for the quintessential rock n' roll band was filled. This was not the Rent-A-Crowe band from 2001 – Chris, Rich and some qualified fill-ins. This was the real deal.
Having such a potent version of the band together has led to more freedom and experimentation on the stage. They jammed out on songs much more than they ever had previously. “Black Moon Creeping” and “Thorn in My Pride” were the recipients of lengthy intros, while the bridge from “Ballad in Urgency” to “Wiser Time” was also an extended passage. All saw Rich leading the way, with Ford, looking like Russell Hammond come alive, and Gorman responding brilliantly. Pipien, too, should not be overlooked. His bass lines were rolling and flowing effortlessly, like a modern-day Berry Oakley. Add in the fact that Harsch plays the organ like there’s no one else in the room, and you have all the ingredients for a tight, kick-ass band.
The band also treated the fans (well, those who weren’t peeling off their skin because they didn’t hear “Hard to Handle” 14 times) with some gems, including the B-side “Darling of the Underground Press” and covers of “Coming Home,” “Boomer’s Story” and “Happy,” not to mention the one-two punch of “Jealous Again” and “Remedy” to close out the main set.
The evening wasn’t without its flaws, though. The tight security kept a sharp eye out for lighters and puffs of smoke, as well as cups of beer, from the seats, and they made sure to drag out any and all perpetrators. This didn’t affect me – I’m not in the habit of paying $8 for a beer – but it obviously affected the crowd to the point where both Rich and Chris were asking why everyone was so sedate. Chris went as far as to point out that “this place sucks,” and the next night the band announced that they were ending their long relationship with the Orpheum.
But all that was nothing more than a few drops on the windshield on an otherwise beautiful day. I got to see my beloved Crowes again, and I’ll see them again this summer when they open up for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, too.
Now if they can head for the studio and get the taste of the New Earth Mud out of my mouth, we’ll be in business.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org