Header image (1) credit: Andrew Daly/VWMusic/image (2) courtesy of Rogers and Cowan PMK
By Andrew Daly
From the moment that Rich Robinson strummed the oh-so-familiar chords of “Twice as Hard,” it was immediately apparent, that on a hot summer night in Atlantic City, NJ, Georgia’s prodigal sons, The Black Crowes meant business.
A lot has been said regarding The Black Crowes in recent years, with some fans becoming galvanized by the various hiatus’ and lineup changes that have taken place over the last twenty years or so. With that being said, if you came into Crowes’ show at the Borgatta Event Center, on Saturday, July 2nd, and expected anything short of a good-time affair, you’d have been sadly mistaken.
At fifty-five years of age, frontman Chris Robinson’s zest for life is ever apparent, which could best be seen as the demonstrative singer strutted across the grandstand, bee-lining from stage left, to stage right with the whimsical fervor of a man half his age. Clad in a sparking sportcoat, topped in a feather-strewn hat, Robinson’s dynamic personality was intoxicating, and his bi-colored socks – one orange, and one pink – peeking out and above his black and white saddle shoes didn’t hurt either.
Aesthetics aside, Robinson was nothing short of sharp, and his voice and incredible range, are not only intact but seemingly forever young. I found myself closing my eyes and smiling multiple times throughout the show, swearing that it was 1990 all over again. To me, this is key, as I’m sure many of you are aware, The Crowes have chosen to play their debut record, Shake Your Money Maker, in full for this wistful jaunt.
It’s no secret that the Robinson brothers have taken to sparring over the years, but on this evening, guitarist Rich Robinson was in perfect lockstep with his elder brother, as well as the rest of his bandmates. If you’ve not seen The Crowes before, I’ll save you the suspense: Rich Robinson is still a commanding stage presence. If his brother Chris is the focal point, then Rich is the proverbial onstage quarterback. While he is seemingly gentle, if not stoic, it was obvious to even the most casual observer that Rich was the maestro of this rock ‘n’ roll orchestra.
While he may not be the band’s lead guitarist (those duties fall to Isaiah Mitchell whom I’ll touch on later), Robinson’s fretwork and six-string prowess are nothing short of integral to the classic music of The Crowes. Being that this was something of a nostalgia-driven show, one could not help but be transported back to The Crowes’ heyday. Tracks such as “Sister Luck,” “She Talks To Angels,” “Jealous Again,” and “Remedy” more than casually reminded us that Rich Robinson was and still is one of the most versatile songwriters of the last thirty years. Case in point, the man wrote the aforementioned “She Talks To Angels” when he was fifteen. If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.
As I mentioned earlier, the Robinson brothers aside, the lineup The Crowes are rolling out these days has been something of a hot topic, which has been subject to great debate amongst fans. Now, for me, I can’t really see why, being that all kinds of bands change lineups often. Simply put, it happens. If you’re a real fan of the band, you accept it, you move on, and you enjoy the music, right? The way I see it is, as long as the band is in keeping with the legacy, and overall sound, then what’s the issue?
Well, the answer, in this case, is simple: there is no issue. Starting with The Crowes new drummer, Brian Griffin, I was immediately taken back by how massive his drum sound was. Not only that, but Griffin was able to easily nail the more complicated-than-they-seem drum shuffles, and fills of original drummer Steve Gorman. Make no mistake, I am a Steve Gorman fan, as such, I understand how integral he was to the band. This being said, by the show’s end, Griffin had me thinking, “Steve Gorman who?”
As for Sven Pipien, he’s been with the band on and off, through its various hiatus, since 1997. At this point, you know what you’re going to get with him, and what you get from him is solid basswork, and a calming, veteran stage presence. One thing I found entertaining was that Pipien seemed to intrinsically know exactly where to stand in order to keep himself from getting bowled over by Chris Robinson’s microphone-twirling ways.
That leaves us with lead guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, who for my money – save for Chris Robinson – stole the show. Honestly, I knew that Mitchell was a real talent from his work with (mostly) instrumental, psych-rock band, Earthless. What I didn’t know is that Mitchell is near virtuoso level. If that sounds like high praise, then all I can say is go see the man play live, and your mind will be forever changed, and just maybe you’ll find yourself thinking, “Marc Ford who?”
Much is made of The Crowes’ 90s heyday, where Marc Ford and Rich Robinson formed perhaps the most elite guitar duo in rock music. Well, I’m here to tell you that with Mitchell aboard, that magic is back, and then some. Mitchell’s stage presence was one of calming, yet fierce focus, driven by his diverse experiences, innate understanding of melody, and the subtle nuances of the guitar.
In Mitchell, The Crowes have found a player whose tone is deeply rich, and smooth as velvet. More so, Mitchell proves a perfect musical foil to Rich Robinson, and he is both a dominant rhythm player and an effervescent lead player. The most striking observation I had was that he brought new life to over thirty years old solos, and riffs, yet still retained the classic soul with tasteful ease, as he made the strings of his various guitars cry out for unbridled mercy, as he easily navigated the classic solos we’ve all come to know and love.
From my vantage point, it’s easy to see why the Robinson brothers hired both Mitchell and Griffin, and for the first time in a long time, fans of The Black Crowes have reason to be both excited, and hopeful. Not only is this band now a mighty touring unit, but what is to come in terms of new studio output is truly intriguing to boot. Make no mistake, The Black Crowes aren’t just here to cruise to the finish line playing their hits. Consider this tour and the band’s recent EP, 1972, a trial run, because it’s plain to see that with this lineup, The Crowes are back with a heroic vengeance.
The newcomer’s Griffin and Mitchell, along with the ever-steady Pipien have obviously reinvigorated the now harmonious Robinson brothers. For The Black Crowes, this tour might be about nostalgically remembering the past, but one thing is certain, the future is as bright as ever, and the band’s next chapter and beyond has yet to be written.