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Despite Major Changes, the Black Crowes Are Having Fun

April 8th, 2013

The Black Crowes – Terminal 5 – April 6, 2013


The Black Crowes first gained fame with their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, but 23 years later, only three original members remain: frontman Chris Robinson, his brother, rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson, and drummer Steve Gorman. Bassist Sven Pipien has been with the band since the late ’90s (minus a few years), and keyboardist Adam MacDougall came onboard in 2007. As for lead guitar, first there was Jeff Cease, and then for a long time there was Marc “Fucking” Ford. His and Rich’s guitar pairing would define the band’s sound. But then Ford was replaced by Audley Freed, who remained until the group’s first hiatus. When the Crowes returned, Ford was again playing lead—until he wasn’t and Paul Stacey was. And then he wasn’t and Luther Dickinson was. Dickinson returned the band to the twang-y Southern-rock sound of Ford’s heyday, and by the time fans finally grew accustomed to this version of the Crowes, you guessed it, they went on hiatus again.

So when word broke that they’d be touring again, with Jackie Greene as lead guitarist, the news was met with trepidation. But over the course of four shows last week—two each at the Capitol Theatre and Terminal 5—the newest edition of the Black Crowes allayed the fears of any doubters. Turns out, Greene is almost a perfect fit, as the band has bloomed sonically from the bluesy Southern rock they’d first become known for into a patchwork Americana sound studded with folk, rock, gospel and soul. It’s as if they’d traded in their Stones’, Faces’and Allmans’ albums for the Band’s, Mad Dogs & Englishmen and the Rolling Thunder Revue.

On Saturday night at Terminal 5, Greene’s mandolin on “She Talks to Angels” and banjo on “Whoa Mule” helped breathe new life into those songs, and his guitar work on “Sister Luck” was particularly fiery. Greene’s presence allowed Rich to play slide and take on more lead duties, like in terrific renditions of “Thorn in My Pride” and “Wiser Time,” with the two epically engaging each other from across the stage while everyone else took a step back. Of course, it’s not just about the new guitarist. The Crowes have reinterpreted some older material, like Chris’s staccato gospel breakdowns in the middle of “Remedy” (and in “My Morning Song” on prior nights). And the other drastic change was the lack of backing singers, two strong female voices replaced by four- and five-part harmonies.

But it wasn’t just about what was heard—because what was seen proved to be just as important, which in this case, was a band having a good time. There were smiles across the stage, and no one seemed to be enjoying himself more than Chris, whether happily introducing the night’s third song, “Feelin’ Alright,” with “Saturday night in the big city, man,” or inspiring some of the night’s biggest applause with harmonica-led jams, his playful dancing and joy were infectious, spreading across the stage and the room. And following a strong show filled with early material, covers and rarely played numbers, like “Title Song,” plus a three-song encore, the Black Crowes lingered onstage hugging one another, smiling widely and taking in the adulation. —R. Zizmor

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com