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I thought I didn’t care about the Black Crowes reunion. I’ve known about it for months, felt that it was a dash for cash, everybody’s got to pay their bills, it was interesting to me on a business level at best.
And when I heard Chris and Rich doing their best to make nice on Howard Stern this morning, I was wincing in the car.
And then they started to play.
I didn’t realize Rich Robinson was such a great guitarist until I saw him with Bad Company. As for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood…poor man’s jam band. I’ve seen the CRB, it’s not offensive, it’s just not that endearing, the material doesn’t stick to you. And how important are the Black Crowes in rock history anyway?
In case you don’t remember, or weren’t conscious, the Crowes burst on to the scene in 1990 and immediately had huge success, “Hard To Handle” was everywhere.
And then came Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the Seattle sound, grunge.
As for the ’92 follow-up album, “The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion”…”Remedy” was in the vein of what came before, just not quite as good, like the album itself, except for ‘Thorn In My Pride,” a six minute opus that recalled the great southern rock of the seventies, an updated, slower “Can’t You See,” by the Marshall Tucker Band, with gravitas. This was the sound that endeared us to the sounds emanating from Georgia and Florida two decades previously.
And then the Crowes lost the plot. The sound was still there, but not the material, and as stated previously, the sound had moved on.
And then came hip-hop.
And now we’re in the late teens, the decade is almost over, and rock and roll is on life support. Metal is so far from the basics that you need to study history to understand it. No straight-ahead rock band has a combo of great singer and great material, the basics, you start with the song, then the execution comes next, but if the building blocks are not there to begin with, if there’s not talent to begin with, the effort is futile, and that’s what’s happened, now that everybody can play, with the bar to entry so low, we get substandard music in an era where we’re only interested in the great.
And then the Black Crowes play “Jealousy Again” on Howard Stern.
Now it’s early in the morning, the worst time to sing and…
Rich Robinson pulls off the lick as if he owns it, which he does. And then you can hear the ivories twinkling, usually this sound gets lost in the mix, and then Chris Robinson starts to sing and…HE’S STILL GOT HIS VOICE!
All these rock acts reuniting, they’ve always lost a step, it’s only about memories.
And the sound is not perfect, the guitar is too loud, you’re straining to hear Chris, then again, now I’m listening to the original studio recording and except in the chorus, he’s buried in the mix the same way.
And it’s rough, as opposed to the perfection you expect today, where everything’s on hard drive.
But this is not, this is rock music, played by the assembled multitude, and it sounds so RIGHT!
I’m wondering if it’s because I know the song, but then I realize it’s the glorious noise, that was built into rock music, it squeezed out all other thoughts, it was an elixir, a release, it was the grease for all our wheels, it rode shotgun throughout our lives, from the dashboard of our cars, from our transistor radios, from those stereos we turned up nearly to distortion.
But that’s not happening today. We always hated pop, it was saccharine, that’s my problem with Ariana Grande, WHO CARES? I want you to test the limits, I want you to say something, I don’t want you to play to me, I want you to pull me out of my comfort zone, make me come to you.
As for hip-hop…got to tell you, I don’t find the drum machine offensive, just dated, we heard the 808 back in the eighties, about the same time synth drums came and went. But before the lyrics became so self-congratulatory, when it was still about samples rather than no-melody beats, I got it, but today…
Rock and roll ain’t that hard to do, just ask Chuck Berry.
But the truth is it’s hard to do right.
“Stop, understand me
I ain’t afraid of losing face”
This is the magic, when the song slows down, when it takes a left turn, when Chris sings almost sotto voce, at least for rock and roll, these are the moments that put songs over the top, that make you need to hear them over and over again, “Jealous Again” is a romp until this reflection.
And it all made sense when Rich said he was inspired by “Tumbling Dice,” its chorus kinda stops like this, but the verses of “Jealous Again” are even better, and there’s that piano playing, the special sauce, what Stu used to provide, that puts it over the top…”Jealous Again” is better than “Tumbling Dice,” heresy I know, but that’s the truth.
And it’s like we lost the recipe. The Crowes found it and brought it back thirty years ago, and now they’re bringing it back once again, why can’t anybody see it, why can’t anybody realize this is the essence of rock and roll, rollicking bar band music played on a minimum of instruments, that doesn’t beat your head into submission, that doesn’t put you to sleep, but makes you smile, makes you happy, makes you MOVE!
And Chris is telling Howard he’s afraid of looking uncool, afraid of being judged, how it was uncool to play an entire album back then but cool today, still he’s worried, as Howard said, musicians are always worried that they’ll end up on the wrong side of the equation, laughed at, pushed aside.
And once U2 played “Joshua Tree,” they instantly became an oldies act, but the Crowes are already an oldies act, this tour is definitely a look back. And U2 was about energy, mood, heightening your senses, message, but…
“Always drunk on Sunday”
Come on, how many times did you wake up with a hangover, start drinking again just to get rid of it? The sound emanated from the jukebox, it was pounding in the car, the dorm room, you know what rock and roll is, and it mutated into metal and singer-songwriter, prog, but the only people who went back to the garden were the Black Crowes.
And now the land is bare. There are no seeds. The land is lying fallow, part of it has been reclaimed by country, but…that’s the rock music of the seventies according to Tom Petty, that’s what he said at the Fonda, while he was still here, when there was still an arbiter pushing the envelope.
And now Tom Petty is dead. Petty was always about attitude, he took no crap, he liked the sound, he grew up on it, he wanted to push it just a bit farther, that’s what made him matter. But now there’s no one left leading the charge.
Except the Black Crowes. They’re back not as nostalgia, but as the Bible, walking the earth like the rock gods they once were, when giants ruled the earth. And the guitar was brash. And the vocal’s bravado was baked into the sound.
“Stop, understand me
I ain’t afraid of losing faith in you”
LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL!
Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note, these comments are presented as-is and unedited for grammar or content.
Long live rock indeed! What a surprise. Rich and Chris and no other members? I guess they were too busy for this? Oh well. Good to see the brothers are talking anyway. They are both terrific musicians, but not sure about “gods.” Talented yet troubled rock stars acting out in public, yes, but gods is a bit much. That’s a Hendrix word. Stevie Ray. Morrison. Lennon. You know. THEY are rock gods.
Pointing out the obvious, BC weren’t doing arenas and amps at their height, in fact, when they broke up, we were trying to make up my canceled date at Mesa Arts Center, which is 1500 cap, and not sold out. Does breaking up and going away for 7 years make more people want to see them? Is it just me as I don’t grok the size of these venues for them to play, as a promoter or as a fan?
I really do wish them the best, regardless of the fact I didn’t get a call to be involved somehow after having done many shows with them in the past, and endured some rough times, in the midst of all the chaos. As one of the only independent promoters who still gets up and books stuff everyday and actually works each show, I am worried for this tour.
I wouldn’t have been in on this “reunion”, as everything I know says they are worth 1000-3000 seats – nothing wrong with that! Unless you are trying to sell 10 or 20000 tickets. So I wish all involved the best, I never want to see anyone not do great, even when they do forget my number in too many cases, due to these fantastic tour offers.
We do need more rock groups, new and old. With all the chaos. No question. It’s too quiet out here. Shake it up, boys! Make money, not friends.
– Danny Zelisko