As predicted a few weeks ago when social media posts and billboards started appearing across the nation, The Black Crowes announced Monday that they are reuniting for two warmup shows this week (Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Monday and The Troubadour in Los Angeles on Thursday) plus a 46-date summer tour in 2020. The band appeared on Howard Stern, as well as Rolling Stone, with lengthy interviews.
A surprise comes as the Robinson brothers, Chris and Rich, are the only two past members in the band for the tour. Rounding out the lineup are Isaiah Mitchell (guitar) of Earthless, Joel Robinow (keyboards) and Raj Ojha (drums) of Once & Future Band, and Tim Lefebvre (bass), formerly of Tedeschi Trucks Band. The brothers stated they wanted a fresh start with no former band members.
Another surprise are the venue choices. In recent years (2005 to 2013), the band primarily toured 1,000 to 3,000 seat theaters and halls. Next year’s tour is comprised almost entirely of outdoor Live Nation amphitheaters with seating capacities of 10,000 to 20,000. The angle presented is that the band is going to play their 1990 multi-platinum record “Shake Your Money Maker” in its entirety every night, “plus all the hits” to cater to casual fans — and hopefully longtime enthusiastic fans who haven’t seen the band play in at least six years — to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the aforesaid album’s release. Tour link.
This all comes on the heels of Steve Gorman’s successful book released in September, “Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes.” When asked about the book in Rolling Stone, Rich quickly punted and Chris followed, stating that Steve has his own perspective, and it’s all in the past.
Social media was alive all day with the announcement with plenty of differing reactions, ranging from fans being excited the brothers are reuniting and playing the songs they love, to diehard fans being disappointed at the lack of former members being involved, including founding member Gorman and his distinctive hard rocking grooves on the drums, as well as favorites such as Marc Ford on guitar paired with Rich Robinson.
My take? The brothers are welcome to do whatever they want. They wrote the songs. They are renowned for their volatile relationship between each other over the years, but things can change, times can change. Maybe they really are getting along now. Also, if Live Nation is setting up a massive tour in large venues, there’s undoubtedly a lot of money on the table for the brothers. I can’t begrudge musicians going out and making money on their material. I don’t begrudge them for playing “Shake Your Money Maker” in its entirety. In fact, given the circumstances of the anniversary, I think it’s a smart idea.
However, this is not “The Black Crowes” that I came to know, and a lot of diehard fans came to know, at least on surface. That band would play daring set lists night after night, with impeccable musicianship, reaching for the stars creatively, with a cosmic chemistry that made them the second best band I had ever seen, on multiple occasions (The Rolling Stones will always be No. 1 for me). The new musicians in the band are talented, no doubt, but it will take time to develop chemistry with Chris and Rich. That will come quicker in some ways, because the material should be static night after night. However, the tradeoff is that there will be “no jamming” according to Chris, so expect tight arrangements close to the album cuts, composed solos, and very little variation from one show to the next.
Also, to sell these tickets, I suspect a very big co-headliner will have to be added, or two very strong openers. Who will they be? Hard to say … a Gary Clark, Jr. could be a good fit. Maybe Tedeschi Trucks Band AND Marcus King Band? That could build excitement. Maybe Blackberry Smoke in the South and East? Time will tell. I think selling out large venues is going to be a very tall order on their own with a modest opening act, even with a powerhouse like Live Nation behind them.
The Black Crowes are a different act now. Things could change in the future but for now, they have become a classic rock nostalgia act with minimal past members in the vein of Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Steely Dan, Ian Anderson presenting Jethro Tull, and The Eagles, to name a few. I’m personally going to save my money and go see bands like Steve Gorman’s Trigger Hippy, Marc Ford and the North Mississippi Allstars.
— Jon Siembieda