The Black Crowes say goodbye to 2005
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The Black Crowes at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC, March 2005
"That's straight-up, no-bullshit rock n' roll, man!"
— One enthusiastic fan outside the Hippodrome, Springfield, MA, 12.28.2005
Walking out of the Hippodrome was one of the sadder things I've had to do in the past few weeks. Inside, for the past three hours, the Black Crowes had brought their traveling rock party into a converted theater in a dying city and brought it to life, if just for a little while. Sure, outside the "HIPPODROME" sign had half of its letters out and the streets before it were either dark or under construction. It wasn't too reassuring a place to be on a cold Wednesday night. But inside, the Brothers Robinson and crew went to work, and as that fan said, it was rock music at its classic best.
The Black Crowes were capping off one of the best years of their existence. At this time last year, the band was either a fading memory or a cruel rumor, depending on your disposition. Chris and Rich Robinson were involved in solo projects with no sign of a reunion. Rumors had been buzzing, with the curious cancellation of their respective solo tours that winter, that a reformation was in the works, but they weren't anything more than rumors.
Now, the band is looking back at a year where they reunited with their old work ethic intact, and then some. After a successful run in New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom (with Bill Dobro filling in for original Crowe Steve Gorman on drums), the band officially made their presence in the current music scene felt. A full-fledged spring tour followed, with Gorman making his return during a four-night stand in Atlanta. A support gig for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers came in the summer, and another headlining tour in the fall after that, culminating in a 3-hour-plus finale at the Vic Theatre in Chicago on Halloween night, which included the band opening for themselves as "BC/DC" and running through three Bon Scott-era AC/DC classics.
From nothing to something, the Crowes fought their way back into the music spectrum, and before settling back into the studio to begin crafting their comeback record, they decided to end 2005 right — with a rock n' roll blowout at Madison Square Garden.
But they couldn't go in cold on New Year's Eve. They announced two warm-up shows, in Springfield, Mass., and Providence, R.I., respectively, to get themselves ready.
And really, they were more than ready.
At the Hippodrome in Springfield on Dec. 28, the Crowes, complete with Chris Robinson in pigtails, kicked off with the rumbling intro to "Wiser Time," an anthem that could serve as the Crowes' mission statement. Rolling and tumbling through the six-minute-plus version, the band worked through several choruses while guitarists Marc Ford and Rich Robinson displayed their lead and slide work, respectively. "Wiser Time" would also prove to be the only song played in both Springfield and Providence.
The Springfield show wound up as the more hit-friendly of the two, with bona-fide radio staples "Jealous Again," "Hard to Handle" and "Remedy" getting play during the second set. But it's never really about the hits with the Crowes. "Hotel Illness" and "Downtown Money Waster" got extended treatments, the stutter-funk freakout "Lickin'" was played for the first time since the band went on hiatus in 2001, and obscure covers of Neil Young ("L.A.") and Manassas ("Song of Love") were inserted.
Before the rollicking “Shake Your Moneymaker” capped the festivities, Chris Robinson made sure to thank the crowd for coming out for “the fist night of the summer tour. We’re getting summer started early!”
The second stop on the summer/pre-NYE tour took the band to the Strand, re-invented as the new Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. The band wasted no time with trying to hype up the crowd this time — they slammed right into “Virtue and Vice,” the closing-track from 1999’s By Your Side. Chris, now with his hair down and sporting a baseball-T, was in Robert-Plant-mode on stage, dancing, twirling the mic stand over his head and pumping it during drum breaks. Two B-sides crept into the first set, “Another Roadside Tragedy” and “Title Song,” and a surprising cover that dropped like an atom bomb on the crowd, the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.” From that point on, the crowd had a charge that didn’t dissipate through the rest of the night, as the band tore through classics (“My Morning Song,” “Greasy Grass River,” “High Head Blues”) and surprising covers (George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness,” Pink Floyd’s “Fearless”).
It’s through the covers that the Crowes appreciation and dedication to rock as an art form shines. The Harrison cover was meticulously done, every vocal accent perfect, every guitar run on key, every drum snap hit with just the right force. But still, even with the dedication to the original form, the band’s personality took the song over. Chris Robinson’s voice soared on “Darkness,” while Rich Robinson’s tenor fit “Fearless” like a glove. Marc Ford’s higher pitch suited Bob Dylan's “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and the previous night’s “L.A.” perfectly, and the guitar duo’s new role as occasional lead singers has given the Crowes a three-headed attack on vocals, adding a depth the band had never seen before.
And that’s what 2005 was all about for this band. Coming back from nothing, barnstorming America and playing everywhere they could, bringing new songs into the setlist, paying tribute to those that set the stage for them, and cementing their place in the annals of rock history. And they did all on their own terms without giving up even an ounce of credibility.
That sure sounds like straight up, no bullshit rock n’ roll to me. And I doubt they’d have it any other way.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org