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The Black Crowes

Black Crowes At The Troubadour

The Black Crowes (Josh Cheuse)
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That’s rock and roll. You know it when you see it, when you feel it, when you hear it.

Now I know why Chris Robinson gets all the girls. In regular life, he’s just a skinny, geeky guy. But when the music starts…

If you lived through the pre-internet era, you know what I’m talking about. The gig was a tribal rite, a once in a lifetime performance which only those in attendance experienced. It wasn’t about those in the audience, but those on the stage. Music drove our lives, we needed to get closer, to excite us, to enlighten us, to make us feel alive!

These players had woodshedded off-screen. They were nobodies before they became somebodies. Kinda like GNR. Or even Poison. Just denizens of the Sunset Strip and then splashed all over the airwaves, eventually even MTV. That was the goal, not to go to Silicon Valley and make a billion, but to go to Hollywood and get everything! Enough money, that’s for sure, but also the adulation and the admiration.

It’s hard to explain the sound. You had to be there, you had to experience it. And the boomers were, they were addicted to the radio in the sixties and seventies too. And there were the Beatles, but also the Stones. The Stones were selling something different, something based in R&B, something sexier, something more dangerous…you wanted to get closer and see if you were burned by the flame.

We were hot last night.

That’s the power of music, the power of performance, it sells itself, you don’t need to implore the audience to pay attention, they just come like lemmings to your feet.

I mean they’re playing James Brown over the sound system, evidencing the Robinsons’ Georgia roots, and it’s just not a snippet, but the whole damn song. At this point, the anticipation is starting to wear off.

And then Chris Robinson strides down the stairs wearing his hat with a feather and Rich Robinson straps on his axe and it’s twice as hard to believe we live in today’s era, when rock is essentially dead.

To the right of Rich there’s a rack of guitars, nearly one for every number. He’s picking a Telecaster at first and then the tech keeps handing him something new. Reminding those of us in attendance when we were fascinated by guitars and amps as opposed to phones. When going to Manny’s, or even Guitar Center, was a pilgrimage to the temple, to the birthplace of the sound.

And everyone can play, but not everyone can build their chops to be world-class with their own sound. They make it look so easy, even though we know it’s so hard.

We were jealous again, that they were on stage and we were not. You remember those days, don’t you, when the highest achievement was to be a rock musician, touring the world unrestricted by parents, a boss, doing what you wanted to do, all as a result of the joyous noise you created.

Nobody else could see, and nobody else could see last night. This was not the announcement, this was not the first gig, this was the finale of the celebration of the regrouping, the heat was off, except for a bunch of fans squeezed in on the floor and the creme de la creme of the business in the bleachers.

Scratch that. I don’t think there was anybody under forty there. Maybe fifty. Especially upstairs. We all remembered when. We’ve been passed by, forgotten, it’s about hip-hop, the youth, hell Billie Eilish isn’t even twenty.

Yup talk to anybody with miles on them in this business. It’s weird how the years are passing by, how a new generation has taken over, how it’s all about Scooter and Ariana, never mind Taylor, but even more Drake and an endless parade of youngsters, we don’t know what happened to our business, our music, the elixir that brought us to L.A. It wasn’t the weather, not even the money, it was the music!

Rock music fills up every nook and cranny in the room. Takes your brain hostage. Last night you couldn’t think about your obligations, your problems, you were riveted by the sound, you couldn’t believe it still existed, it was a victory lap, a true hall of fame induction for those who’d been there and knew how to judge.

Now you know what you’re gonna get. “Shake Your Moneymaker” from start to finish. Songs you know by heart. Nobody knows albums by heart these days. They’re overstuffed projects, hoping you forget to click and stop streaming them. Just check the number of plays, they’re not spread evenly, they center on just a few tracks, and even those tracks are known by few, even the biggest of them, but there’s not a soul who didn’t know the Crowes’ version of “Hard To Handle” at the turn of the decade, from the eighties to the nineties. Music ruled, it had power, and it still does, who else can speak to all political persuasions, different viewpoints? The sound knows no boundaries, if it infects you you’ve got no choice but to be sick, to listen to the message, even if today’s acts are abdicating in favor of endorsements, sponsorships, brands. Rock and roll was not about coloring inside the lines, it was about testing the limits, it wasn’t made to alienate parents, it’s just that they didn’t want to come on this ride, they didn’t grow up in an era where kids were king, where you could follow your muse as opposed to the pre-set formula of school, work, family, death.

So Chris is standing at the mic, twirling the mic, stomping the mic, not as acrobatics, not to evidence skill, but because he’s possessed by the music. “Twice As Hard” begins and he can’t hold back, he’s got to be himself, a jitterbug driven by sound, he’s got no choice.

Oh he’s skinny, but that’s only part of it, there’s the way he stomps one leg and then the other, the way he shrugs his shoulder…whatever this guy’s got we want!

How do these musicians win America’s sweethearts? Van Halen with Bertinelli, Robinson with Hudson? Eventually these women discover that’s all there is, that these are not normal people, these are not actors, these are musicians. They’re not three-dimensional, they’ve got flaws, but when they take the stage they’ve got the entire audience in the palm of their hands.

It’s sex. Chris follows the progenitor, Jagger, but he’s less active, jive and feminine. Mick looks like the gym rat he is, you saw that video of him practicing his moves in that dance studio after his surgery, right? About the most exercise Chris gets is lifting the bottle to his lips.

And the Stones play stadiums.

Last night we were up close and personal, they were only a few feet away. We were so close, but we could not be them. We could see the expressions on their faces, but you could not buy your way on stage, that was their domain, while they played money became irrelevant.

Now here’s where the hard core says it’s a fake band, that they didn’t include Gorman, never mind the rest of the players who’ve slid through the door. But that’s not what this tour is about, this tour is about money, and the Robinson brothers don’t want to share it with Gorman the same way Page and Plant didn’t want to share it with John Paul Jones. This is a celebration of what once was, not what is coming down the pike. Furthermore, there are not enough hard core fans to fill the buildings.

But it’s more than that. At this point, the fans own the music, the material. Just go to a Journey show, sans Steve Perry, but the effect is still the same, the hit of those numbers you spun into dust back when.

But let’s be clear, it’s about frontmen (and women!) They’re the ones who gain attention. Which is why Alice Cooper could succeed without the original band. You watch the person at the center, they embody the sound, and the question is whether they can do more than sing, can they sell it! Chris Robinson certainly can.

Not that Rich should be ignored. He’s the essence of the music, his riffs, his picking. And together you get what you want.

As for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood…Chris doesn’t do this act, he plays guitar, it’s jam-bandy.

But last night…

Chris gave credit to Otis and then he started to sing “Hard To Handle.” But the best part of the show was when he got to the chorus and the assembled multitude erupted…

“Pretty little thing let me light your candle ‘Cause mama I’m sure hard to handle now”

It was spontaneous, unprompted, it’s like there was a mind meld, everybody knew this was their moment to participate, join in, they couldn’t hold back, this is what they did in dorm rooms, frat houses, bedrooms, at dances way back when, they haven’t changed, but the world has.

Once upon a time, they said that rock and roll would never die.

Hard to believe, but right now we’re at the end of the line, maybe some acts will go back to the basics and take a different path. Sometimes you’ve got to break it down to start all over again, maybe that’s how you change the world.

I’m not sure if today’s teens and twentysomethings would have gotten it last night, I don’t know if this sound would resonate, whether it would be enough for them in a world with so many distractions, where it’s about I as opposed to you, where everybody thinks they can win, where we put people on pedestals just to tear them down.

But once upon a time, these performers were gods.

And it wasn’t only Clapton. There were scores of them. But somehow we lost the formula. In retrospect the Black Crowes were the last gasp.

It was guitars, drums, amps and people. No machines, no robots. Underneath the wall of sound were human beings. All you could do was stomp your feet, thrust your arms in the air and sing along.

“Am I acting crazy
Am I just too proud
Am I just plain lazy
Am I, am I, am I, ever”

Mama, we’re all crazy now. Yup, that’s why Quiet Riot went to the top of the chart.

We were proud of our records, of our knowledge.

My mother couldn’t stop saying I was lazy, to this day, like Bill Murray all I wanted to do was sit around and play my records, albeit not Tito Puente, even though I can listen to “Oye Como Va” all day long.

A girlfriend told me when she moved in with me she didn’t think she was moving in with my records.

But she was. I’m addicted to the sound. I’m a junkie, I’ve got no choice.

And last night I got a hit of pure white heroin. I was high as a kite, and I still haven’t come down.

From the drug they call rock and roll.

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