Written by Daniel Barker
Sep 24, 2010 at 08:00 PM
ImageOh, The Black Crowes….A band that I have been a fan of from day one. A band that manufactured “Southern Harmony & Musical Companion”, one of the best albums of all time in my opinion.  A band that has endured numerous break ups, lineup changes, addictions, DEA prosecutions, celebrity marriages, and countless artistically driven directions fueled by the infamously feuding twin brothers, Chris and Rich Robinson. A band that blatantly has skipped Houston over and over in both career peaks and valleys. A band that had denied HMR access every time they did appear in Houston on a blue moon. A band that this reviewer has deep affinity and respect for despite it all. Oh, The Black Crowes…now here to help celebrate the 20th Year Anniversary of Houston’s Verizon Theatre. Ironic?

Still in shock from the email confirming tix AND a photo pass, I made my way into The Verizon Theatre hall really not knowing what to expect other than the mainstay aroma of cannabis that follows this band like the cloud of dirt surrounding Charles Shultz’s beloved Pig Pen. I had attended the Houston show at The Sam Houston Coliseum where an entire speaker stack collapsed on fans. This ruined the show prompting the band to come back and play for the ticket holders again for free. The last time I saw this band was at what has become affectionally known as the International Sweat Box – The International Ballroom where scenes of arrest and medical emergencies played out all night.
I have to confess that I had lost track of this band like a best friend that moves away or gets married. I would get together with them from time to time and reminisce on the good times but really felt out of touch with any event post separation. An event which took place for us around the release of “By Your Side” on January 12th, 1999. A painfully poor album only resembling a warmed over corpse of what was the magic of The Black Crowes – again in my opinion.

The band arrived here tonight fronting a line up consisting of¬ Chris Robinson-lead vocals, guitar, harmonica; Rich Robinson-rhythm guitar, vocals; Steve Gorman-drums; Adam MacDougall-Keyboards; Sven Pipien-bass; Luther Dickenson-lead guitar….The group is touring behind the August 31th, 2009 release of “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze”. A two disc album that seems to have brought the guys into a strikingly odd phase even for this group. I liken the sound to modern Americana; I assume fitting for a band that put out a disc titled “Amorica” years back. A very acoustic driven roots album no doubt prefaced a decade early by “She Talks to Angels”. I was interested to see how this was going to play out live to audiences here for “Twice as Hard” and “Hard to Handle”.

ImageThe night was billed as an evening with acoustic appetizers with an electric dinner…starting out soft and ending strong.The band came out and broke into “Good Morning Captain” which set the tone for the first…The sound was really strong. … After the first song, the often wordy Chris Robinson took time to ponder why if you are going to sneak a smoke why you would choose a cigarette and not a joint…”You can smoke a cigarette outside guys”…. The dust cloud thickened….

This is band is known for playing the show they want no matter what and that was happening this night. After about the fourth song it was apparent they were here to play the new stuff. The entire set was overwhelmed by new material. Again, material that finds an acoustic guitar in BOTH twins hands a lot…Songs like “Garden Gate”, “Roll on Jeremiah” and “Fork in the River” where solid tunes. This group has been inspired in this sound which may have been influenced by some the brothers solo project in recent years like Chris Robinsons group “New Earth Mud”.

Chris’s guitar playing was not too shabby…I have to admit with his long hair and straggly beard,  he looks a lot like a burned out Ray LaMontange when his is strumming, singing and throwing a little harmonic in from time to time…The piano is a integral part in the The Black Crowes sound. I wondered how these guys could replace Ed Harsch – The Keith Richards of key players… Adam MacDougall did a fine job but it just is not the same….For the record, I miss Marc Ford too…..

There is a tune that deals with the aforementioned avoidance of Houston in the past by this group on the new album titled “Houston Don’t Dream About Me”. I was wondering if they would play it but they did. It was a nice touch for the set. It seems The Crowes have the same relationship with Houston as The Grateful Dead had with New Orleans…generally both seem to have regarded “The South” as just too restrictive to their lifestyle…A lifestyle maybe more suited for Amsterdam.

The band took a 20 minute break which is rare for any rock show these days. From the groaning in the rather large crowd I could tell that they were beginning to grow impatient and were wondering if they were going to hear any classic tunes. The Black Crowes held them hostage most of the night but were kind enough to bust into a handful of favorites to close the show…”Sting Me”, “Jealous Again”, and “Blackberry” satisfied…

Thru it all these guys have survived… That in its self is one hell of an accomplishment…It seems to me they have thrown off the shackles of genre to make music they enjoy and that feels right for the place they are in their lives right now…The brothers look tired but content at the same time…We have all been on quite a journey to get to where we were this night… I wish them all the best…Congratulations to Verizon…I will see you out supporting live music.