Conditions outside the Academy are awful. Ordinarily, RTM doesn’t do ice – sticks and slippy surfaces don’t mix. However, tonight is anything but ordinary. Tonight is the second date on The Black Crowes first world tour for a very long time indeed.
The Black Crowes have, for over 20 years, been a massive part of RTM’s life. Since early 1990, when we first heard “Twice As Hard” as a 14 year old who had no idea about the Stones and The Faces, we have been fans. In fairness, that is fans with a “but” because, apart from perhaps The Wildhearts, there is no band with ability to enthrall and frustrate as The Crowes – and sometimes even on the same record. That said “Remedy” from album number two “The Southern Harmony Musical Companion” is one of our top ten records of all time, so it is in that context – a mix of excitement and trepidation – that we sit down tonight.
At dead on eight o’clock the band stroll out on stage, looking every inch like the folkie hippies you suspect they always wanted to be. Singer Chris Robinson looks a little more lived in than he did, brother Rich on guitar still appears to have born with a guitar in his hand, while of the others – and Jackie Greene on second guitar is the only new face – drummer Steve Gorman is the spitting image of the anger management consultant in Steve Coogan’s Saxondale.
None of that matters when they plug in. The opening bars of “Jealous Again” waft into the air and instantly you remember why you loved this band so much. “Thick and Thin” soon follows and its easy to be swept along on a tide of nostalgia.
However, if you thought this signified that we were set for a greatest hits show, then you don’t know the Crowes. They are onstage for over two and a half hours and the gig takes more turns than you might imagine. One minute they are playing Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” which is funky as anything, then its “Whoa Mule” with its almost gospel overtones. In between all this Rich Robinson is playing a majestic slide guitar solo during “Wiser Time” that is jaw droppingly good.
Chris smiles his way through and is in convivial mood. When the acoustic guitars come out mid-set he jokes with the crowd that “you don’t think we brought these beards through customs not to play some acoustic music do you?” On top of this he is still a fine singer.
After “Thorn in My Pride” is turned into a massive sounding jam (keyboard player Adam McDonald destroying his rig by accident in the process while the band carries on around him) the aforementioned “Remedy” is aired along with a medley of “Hard To Handle” and “Hush” which ends the main set.
After such a tumultuous end the encores were perhaps always going to be a little low-key, and after a cover of Eric Clapton endorsed folkies Delaney And Bonnie’s “Poor Elijah” they give a rendition of “Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)” rather than, say “Twice As Hard” or one of the hits.
In many ways though, that sums the Crowes up. Here is a band that for over twenty years it seems has been doing exactly whatever it wanted to, whether we like it or not.