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Live Review: The Black Crowes, Bend, OR, July 21, 2022

The Brothers Robinson—singer Chris and his younger, guitar-slinging sibling Rich—have been the motor that drives the Black Crowes machine since they were originally known as Mr. Crowe’s Garden, coming straight outta Marietta, Ga., back in 1984. Much like other bands comprised of oft-warring brethren—the Kinks, Oasis, Jesus And Mary Chain and the Everlys all come […]

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The Brothers Robinson—singer Chris and his younger, guitar-slinging sibling Rich—have been the motor that drives the Black Crowes machine since they were originally known as Mr. Crowe’s Garden, coming straight outta Marietta, Ga., back in 1984.

Much like other bands comprised of oft-warring brethren—the Kinks, Oasis, Jesus And Mary Chain and the Everlys all come to mind—the same deeply shared genetic code that makes the Crowes such an intuitively great recording and live act has also rendered them highly combustible over the years, with occasional bouts of “hiatus” marking their resume when Chris and Rich could no longer stand to share a stage.

Their current spell of togetherness was brokered by Howard Stern back in 2019, when Chris and Rich announced on his Sirius XM show that they had resolved their differences after not speaking to one another for more than four years. At the time, the brothers indicated that they were planning a reunion tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Shake Your Money Maker, the band’s good-natured 1990 debut featuring what would come to be known as its patented blend of Faces, Stones and a pinch of Rocks-era Aerosmith thrown in for good measure. Then COVID landed with a thud and delayed proceedings until 2021—with the Robinsons representing the only original members of the Crowes who would be involved in the tour, surrounded by a whole new lineup. Predictably, cries of “cash-out” followed, and the Crowes’ early tour stops were duly assigned a few mixed reviews.

Well, I’m a sucker for a concept show, and when it became apparent that the Crowes’ stop at Hayden Homes Amphitheater, in Oregon’s high desert, would essentially be in service of playing Money Maker front to back along with a dollop of other prime cuts, I eagerly hopped aboard. I hadn’t seen the Robinsons do their thing live since they collaborated with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page back at the turn of the millennium, so yeah, it’d been a minute. And who could resist a chance to see the brothers either fly together or fly apart in such an iconic summer setting? 

So as it happened, we actually got two shows for the price of one. (A recession appears nigh, so the value-add was highly appreciated.) 

One show was as advertised: The Crowes strolled out onstage from the vantage point of their make-believe bar (Chris at one point introduced the band plus “straight from 1978 and The Love Boat, it’s Isaac, the bartender!”—a tuxedoed gent who stood at the bar at the back of the stage, pouring drinks for the band and, quite possibly, himself all night) and proceeded to steamroll through the grand brevity of Shake Your Money Maker from start to finish. It’s a crisp little bit of brilliance: 10 songs in 43 minutes, a good old-fashioned rock album as the Faces and Stones used to make ‘em back in the day. Brother Rich stood stage left churning out earworm after earworm from his various Fender and Gibson and Gretsch riff-o-matics, deploying Keef’s signature open-G tuning to great effect on music that ranged from the Exile-like grandeur of “Sister Luck” to Ooh La La outtake-esque “Jealous Again.”

The new-era Crowes turn out to be an insanely accomplished bunch: Keyboardist Joel Robinow definitely has more than a bit of Ian MacLagan about him, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Earthless, Golden Void) is the perfect scat-solo accompaniment to Rich’s blooze underpinnings, while the rhythm section of bassist Tim Lefebvre (Tedeschi Trucks Band) and drummer Raj Ojha kept things grounded and locked in, particularly on the gospel-influenced “Seeing Things,” where Chris’ Rod The Mod vocal stylings needed something a bit more earthbound to stay tethered to the beat.

This was the part of the show for the uninitiated. A heavy-set gent next to me named Charlie, bedecked in an Oregon State baseball cap and clearly out for a night on the town with his Portland-based boys, was in his element when songs like Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle” and radio hit “Twice As Hard” were in progress, leaning in at one point to insist, “This band does everything right.” Kinda hard to argue with Charlie on that one.

The “bonus” show took place after the Money Maker festivities had come to a complete stop. The Crowes are equally influenced by the Southern-fried flights of fancy represented by classic-era Allman Brothers (think epic 1971 live joint At Fillmore East and you’re in the right zip code), and the songs they chose to fill out the balance of their set represented a decidedly more jammy, stretched-out frame of mind. The Amorica-era “She Gave Good Sunflower” nearly doubled its album runtime, clocking in around 10 minutes or so, while the Southern Harmony And Musical Companion gem “Thorn In My Pride” was the evening’s tour de force, with a middle section featuring Chris’ considerable harp skills and a guitar duel between Rich and Mitchell that hearkened back to some of the epic Duane Allman-plus-Dickey Betts guitar-threading jamborees of yesteryear, at one point breaking into an unstructured jam that could very easily have been a “Midnight Rambler” rip. The sun set over the stage, and for a minute you could kind of imagine yourself seeing the Stones circa their infamous 1972 “S.T.P.” tour, in all its elegantly wasted glory. 

This was the part of the show for the superfans, represented best by my new friend Dave, a tall, barefoot, bushy-bearded fishing guide from southern Oregon who swayed back and forth to the band’s slower tunes and declared them the equivalent of “going to church.” I’m not particularly religious these days, but sure, Dave, I’m with you on that one. That’s a pew I’ll sit in for a spell.

By the time the band arrived at its entirely reworked encore—“river” song (acknowledging the meandering flow of the mighty Deschutes River right next to the venue, within view of the stage) “Good Morning Captain” from 2009’s underrated Before The Frost…. Until The Freeze—it was clear that the Crowes had pulled off that rarest of feats: creating a show and a moment that could unite the Charlies and the Daves, the left and the right, the dope smokers and the beer swillers, the Ds and the Rs, a middle ground where rock ‘n’ roll serves as whatever overlap may yet exist in America’s increasingly shaky Venn diagram.

“It’s a rock ‘n’ roll show, so, you know, let’s rawk,” encouraged Chris just before diving into Replacements-like stomper “Thick ‘N Thin.” To judge from the singularly joyful reaction of tonight’s capacity crowd, I’m pretty sure the Crowes managed to hit their mark. This might be the best show I see all summer, and that’s definitely saying something meaningful in this “return-from-COVID” (sic) season. 

Corey duBrowa

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