By Megan Malamood
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
The Black Crowes were warmly welcomed at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia last Friday. One of many stops on their reunion tour after a two-and-a-quarter-year hiatus, this Philly performance proved that they have come back full force, surging with incredible power and passion.
The band, featuring brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, appeared lively and well and the audience easily picked up their energy, adding to it with great pleasure.
Comprised of frontman Chris Robinson as the vocalist, Rich Robinson on guitar, Steve Gorman on drums, Sven Pipien on bass, Adam MacDougall on keyboards and the recently-added Jackie Greene on guitar as well, the band is a powerhouse like no other.
Out from the darkness, amidst the rising incense, Chris first emerged. With the shadow of his free-flowing hair and lean figure, he appeared as if he were some type of god—a hero whose return to the stage felt so powerfully right to witness. As Rich and the rest of the band members took the stage behind him, the crowd was captured at once—wild with excitement over the appearance of these musical idols.
Then, the transcendent show truly began.
Jumping right into the action, the band opened with “My Morning Song,” originally off of their 1992 album, “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.” Near the end of the song, the music reaches the bridge, takes a sharp turn and breaks off into a high-spirited jam in which Chris sings, “If music got to free your mind, let it be, let it be.” The liberating words and lively music set the tone for the rest of the night, encouraging everyone to let go of any inhibitions and to simply feel the invigorating power of the music deeply.
A couple songs in was the fantastic cover of “Feelin’ Alright,” a rock anthem first recorded by Traffic. When the salsa-infused build up began and Chris broke out his maracas, enthusiastically shaking them across the stage, the audience erupted in approval.
The Black Crowes also performed a masterful version of their beloved song, “Wiser Time.” This extended rendition featured an impressive and winding instrumental jam segment that just further showcased the talent of all band members.
Performed about halfway through the set, “Whoa Mule” was a definite highlight. Gorman came out to the front of the stage to “meet the people” as Chris described, and played the conga drum, an essential piece of the song. With this, Chris’ harmonica playing and the distinctive twang of the guitars, it was a beautiful performance of one of the Black Crowes’ softer and calmer songs.
Chris is known for entertaining with his stage presence alone and he did not disappoint at the Electric Factory. He fervently danced with the mic stand, twirled himself around, swiveled with his hands on his hips and jumped all over while excitedly clapping.
From “She Talks to Angels” and “Thorn In My Pride” to “Soul Singing,” “Jealous Again” and “Hard to Handle,” the setlist for the night included some of their most well-known hits yet each one was done impeccably well. The other song choices, including, “Movin’ On Down The Line,” “Good Friday,” and “By Your Side,” were so satisfying that song after song, the crowd became looser, danced more ardently and sang along louder.
An incredible skill of The Black Crowes that was evident at the show is their ability to blend their unique sounds so smoothly in a way that all the music is harmonious yet each instrument and voice rings out distinctively and is an important part.
The quality of vocal harmonies, especially between the Robinson brothers, was top-notch and awe-inspiring. This does not come as much of a surprise for Black Crowes fans however, as they already know and appreciate this.
In response to the continuous shouts of adoration and affirmation that intensified even more near the end of the show, the band came out and presented a mind-blowing encore. They started off with “Descending,” an unforgettable song from the 1994 album, “Amorica.” Featuring a gorgeous piano solo at the start and finish, with a rich and glorious rock build-up in between, the live performance did full justice to the treasured song.
A moving cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin” featured Rich Robinson’s pleasing, smooth voice and sealed the deal for an exceptional night of Black Crowes music.
Many hold the view that The Black Crowes are arguably the last and greatest true rock n’ roll band. Seeing them in concert was and is not only a treat, but something of a pure gift as well. If the opportunity arises to catch one of their upcoming shows, go without any hesitancy— for any Black Crowes or rock n’ roll fan will recognize their performances as a must-see—a union of passion, vigor and peace, all in one.