The Black Crowes have built a legacy with both their recorded music as well as their live shows over the last thirty years that few rock n’ roll bands will ever be able to match.
Despite going through several eras of the band, which included more than a few line-up changes, the Black Crowes have somehow managed to remain relevant.
The fact that they’ve done so without releasing a new record in over a decade while also not properly touring since 2013 should be considered a testament to the band’s staying power.
However, it should also be noted that the current iteration of the Black Crowes shares far more in common with the off-shoot Black Crowes bands that both Chris and Rich Robinson formed in recent years, The Magpie Salute and As the Crowes Flies respectively, than they do the high energy rock n’ roll stallion that trampled across the planet from the early 90’s through the early part of the 2000’s.
The reality is the heart of the Black Crowes died along with original keyboardist Eddie Harsch back in 2016. The band further strayed away from their original incarnation as lead guitar players of varying technical acumen moved in and out of the band for over the last twenty years via the likes of Marc Ford, Luther Dickinson, Jackie Greene and others.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to long standing Black Crowes fans as it’s a condition that’s existed since the band formally called it quits following the Lay Down with the Number 13 tour close to a decade ago.
As the band’s final tour with a core group of original members came to end in 2013 the last true era of what made the Black Crowes one of the most ferocious live touring acts on any planet closed along with it.
Both Chris and Rich respectively moved onto to a myriad of solo projects, while other original members such as Ford, Steve Gorman and others moved onto to greener musical pastures as well.
However, the cry for the Black Crowes from their fervid fan base never subsided over the last decade and those cries became so loud at one point that both Robinson brothers actually started their own Crowes oriented side projects.
Rich launched the Magpie Salute, along with long time Crowes guitar player Marc Ford while Chris enlisted the talents of former Crowes’ players that included guitar player Audley Freed and short-term Crowes band member Andy Hess.
To little surprise both projects managed to have their fair share of success yet each took a bit of a different path towards that end.
The Magpie Salute was never intended to be a Black Crowes tribute band. Instead, the outfit seemed to be more aligned with using the Crowes music and legacy to serve as a window into the original music the Magpie Salute would wind up producing.
The farther away the Magpie Salute got from their initial inception, the further away their live shows became buoyed by Black Crowes material. Although anyone could understand Rich’s and Ford’s desire to continue to create new music with another, as the Magpie Salute started coming to an end the band’s live shows were also becoming less and less well attended.
Back in 2018 Chris launched the As the Crow Flies project and even though portions of the band’s only true tour were well attended at times, there were more than a few nights that ATCF played to far fewer fans than any true die-hard Black Crowes fan would have ever expected them to.
The ultimate problem with As the Crow Flies was the simple fact that the band had very limited time together to not only practice with one another but to develop the type of live chemistry on stage that made Black Crowes performances the stuff of rock n’ roll legend.
The early part of the ATCF tour run in 2018 was at times nothing short of abject disaster. The musicians were not in sync with on another and the lack of quality time between the band members clearly took its toll on their ability to perform at a high level in a live setting.
Perhaps the most positive news that came out of both the Magpie Salute’s and ATCF’s existence was the fact it cemented in stone that there was still more than enough of a market for all things Black Crowes.
Considering the fact that most “reunion” tours generate an intense amount of interest, and income, it came as little surprise that Chris and Rich decided to mend the fences and join forces for at least one more run as a united Black Crowes.
With that being said any and all Black Crowes fans who are planning to attend the band’s current reunion run of shows should go into these performances with an entirely different set of expectations.
Will anyone attending one of these Crowes reunion shows experience a relatively good night of rock n’ roll music with just enough of Chris’s and Rich’s old selves to remind them of the glory days of the band? Sure.
Should anyone expect anything close to live rock n’ roll juggernaut that even the burned out Black Crowes from the Lay Down with the Number 13 tour managed to achieve on their final run, they may just want to to readjust said expectations.
The current iteration of the Black Crowes as constructed is nothing short of Chris, Rich and a back up band. That’s not to say the musicians in the current touring group are slouches, as they’re clearly not. Isiah Mitchell, Brian Griffin and Joel Robinow are fine musicians in their own right but there is something painfully clear about their existence in this current version of the Black Crowes.
All three aforementioned musicians are on this current tour because they are well like by the brothers Robinson and because quite frankly, players such as Ford, Gorman and keyboardist Adam Macdougall had no interest in joining in on the fun and even if they did, they wouldn’t have been invited.
The direct result of these omissions is the fact that the tour, from a sheer quality standpoint, finds itself much more aligned sonically with the Magpie Salute and As the Crow Flies and consequently, it suffers from those bands’ ailments as well.
The primary malady is the fact again that it’s clear this current version of the Black Crowes has had limited time together both on and off stage and the result is a lack of solvent chemistry as well as the inability to raise the live shows temperature even close to the degree of past Black Crowes iterations.
Also to not fault of their own, players like Mitchell, Griffin and Robinow are simply not in the same stratosphere musicianship wise as long time Black Crowes stalwarts such as Ford, Dickinson, Harsch, Macdougall and Audley Freed.
At not point in the Black Crowes hey day was lead guitar ever an after thought in the band’s live shows. However, in Mansfield, Massachusetts this past week Mitchell clearly struggled to make himself noticed when it came for his time to shine on stage.
Signature live songs that all hard core Black Crowes fans wait in eager anticipation for at their concerts such as Wiser Time and Thorn in My Pride came off as both flat and a bit underwhelming.
It’s important to note that Mitchell and the other new members of the band cannot and should not be blamed for this condition’s existence. Instead the choices of those who are and who aren’t in the band rest solely on the Brothers Robinson.
This is the conundrum with the current tour in terms of fans expectations going into this run of reunion shows. If fans are expecting anything close to an approximation of what the Black Crowes were in even back in 2010, they’re likely going to be a bit disappointed.
Should any fan attending these shows with the expectation that they’re going to witness anything approximate to the band’s heyday as a live act in the 90’s, they’re going to be thoroughly let down.
The star of the current tour is resoundingly Chris. His voice has been and continues to be a weapon and his vocals on tracks in Mansfield such as She Talks to Angels, Seeing Things and No Speak No Slave were as resplendent as they’ve ever been.
Although Rich’s playing on stage was a brilliant as ever it has ever been quite frankly, he looked lost at time. That criticism may come across as a bit harsh, however, Rich has always played off of both Gorman, Harsch and Macdougall respectively. The lack of continuity in the band’s rhythm section came across as omnipresent at times and the live show in Mansfield this past week suffered a bit for it.
Should any fan be looking for a bit of nostalgia and one hell of a good night of rock n’ roll music, anyone that has seen this current Black Crowes tour, myself included, would attest to the fact that the ticket is still worth the price of admission.
One thing that should be mentioned as a clear positive in terms of attending the current run Black Crowes shows is the fact there is one seriously talented band opening up for the Brothers Robinson this time out.
Los Angeles’s own Dirty Honey is literally taking no prisoners when it comes to hitting the stage ahead of their icons, the Black Crowes, Although the band is playing to sparse audiences when their set begins, by the time they’re halfway into their set, lead singer Marc Labelle and his band mates completely win over the crowd.
This is no easy accomplishment and it shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest. The vast majority of the fans coming to these shows are clearly not only showing up for the Black Crowes, most likely have absolutely no idea who or what a Dirty Honey is.
And that’s the brilliance of Dirty Honey in a nutshell right there. The band’s stripped down, take no prisoners, sweaty late 70’s era brand of rock n’ roll easily connected with the Mansfield, Massachusetts and for good reason, they’re flat out fucking good.
Their set this past week in the suburbs of Boston opening up for Chris and Rich likely reminded many in attendance of the unbridled rock n’ roll sex appeal and energy the Black Crowes themselves won an entire planet of fans over with back in their own glory days.
One shouldn’t take Dirty Honey as simply being some kind of retro band trying to live off an era’s long gone by sonics as the quartet injects ample amounts of more modern rock elements in their music to satisfy just about any fan.
Stand out tracks from their time on stage in Mansfield including the gritty The Wire, the chock full of rock n’roll punch, Gypsy as well as the band’s most commercially successful hit to date, California Dreamin‘.
There are more than a few reasons for any and all Black Crowes fans to take part in the current reunion run of the Brothers Robinson. Even a somewhat watered down version of the Black Crowes still exudes more rock and roll combustion than most younger bands will ever be able to achieve.
Additionally should any fan be on the lookout for the next big thing in rock n’roll, the may very well be witnessing the birth of something truly special with Dirty Honey’s addition to the current tour’s bill.
Just make sure if you’re an old school fan of the Black Crowes you come to these shows with only the intent of enjoying some of the songs in a live setting you fell in love with oh so many year ago. Just don’t to show up to this current tour and expect to have your doors blown off by the most powerful rock n’ roll band living on planet Earth today.
Unfortunately that Black Crowes rocket ship seemingly launched into another dimension never to return long ago. That is unless somehow Chris, Rich, Gorman and Ford suddenly let all bygones by bygones.
Based on the current animosity between all of the aforementioned partners, it sure seems like that future is as likely as the Eagles once proclaiming, “only if hell freezes over”.
Come on ice age…..
The Black Crowes – Mansfield, MA (USA) – Xfintiy Center – September 15, 2021
Dirty Honey – Mansfield, MA (USA) – Xfinity Center – September 15, 2021