ARTS

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October 26, 2007

Chris and the Crowes continue to fly high

When I told people I was going to see The Black Crowes, they either had no idea who I was talking about (“The Counting Crows, you mean?”) or only knew frontman Chris Robinson as actress Kate Hudson’s ex-husband.

The band’s lack of recognition is a shame since the Black Crowes have been dubbed “the most rock and roll rock and roll band in the world” by the magazine Melody Makers. They have also released several excellent albums and toured with such artists as Jimmy Page, Tom Petty, and ZZ Top. Led by Chris Robinson and his guitarist brother Rich, the Crowes have survived several lineup changes, a long history of sibling rivalry, and one three-year-long hiatus to launch this tour and a new album set for release sometime next year.

I was really excited to see the Crowes play Chicago’s Riviera Theater since I had heard so much about the band’s excellent live show. The band’s music is usually categorized as Southern rock and is centered around long instrumental jams. The Crowes are a tight group, complete with two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, and two female backup gospel singers to complement Chris’s slightly raspy, Southern-accented voice.

Amid the strong smell of incense, the Black Crowes played a two-hour set. Songs like “Jealous Again,” “Hard to Handle,” and “Soul Singing” were characterized by their long jams. Guitarist Paul Stacey had many of the solos during the first half, but the second half of the show featured Rich, who played seated because of a broken ankle. Chris Robinson, the perfect frontman for the band, is known for his energetic and original dancing (anyone who disagrees should reference the music video for the single “Remedy”), and he did not disappoint during the show. He exuberantly shimmied, bounced, spun, and danced all over the stage during solos and breaks between songs. He also displayed his instrumental skills, playing an extended harmonica solo and grabbing an acoustic guitar for one song.

There was not much banter between the band and the crowd, but it didn’t matter since performers and audience alike were too engrossed in the music to care. My favorite comment from the stage was from Chris: “Rich broke his ankle at the farmer’s market. He tripped over his favorite organic produce stand.” Rich didn’t look too amused, but he has the reputation of being the calmer and more stoic brother. The rest of the Crowes, while obviously enjoying the music, looked positively staid compared to Chris and his energy.

The crowd was into the music, but there were no mosh pits or crowd surfers; The Black Crowes are known to hate both. The band feels that such activities are pointless and inhibit others’ experience of the show. Chris has previously stopped sets and yelled at concert-goers for both activities. I am glad, since I’m of the same opinion. I honestly had one of the best concert experiences of my life, not having to worry about getting hit in the face by people who don’t care enough to just listen to and enjoy the music.

I have a few regrets about the set, and one of them is not really the fault of the band. I sat in the balcony of the Riviera Theater for the first few songs of the show, and the acoustics up there were pretty bad. The sound was muddy, and I could barely distinguish Chris Robinson’s words. I later moved to the floor, and the sound improved considerably.

I think the band could’ve done a better job featuring the talents of their keyboardist and background vocalists, as they do on their albums. Again, this may have been an acoustic problem. I’ve heard some of the Crowes’ live releases, and the band doesn’t sound as guitar-heavy as they did at the show. However, the background singers were relegated to a back corner of the stage, and I think if they had been standing closer to the audience, they would have been heard better. Both singers had great soulful voices, and they were the perfect complement to Chris Robinson’s vocals.

The Black Crowes lived up to their billing as one of the most rock ’n’ roll bands in the music industry. The group has enjoyed continued success for over 10 years, and if Chris and Rich Robinson keep making music together, I think that I’ll still be digging the Black Crowes for years to come.