BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Longtime Black Crowes frontman and lead vocalist Chris Robinson has pretty much avoided playing any material from The Black Crowes catalog following an acrimonious split with his estranged brother Rich that ensued after that bands final show at the Bill Graham Civic in San Francisco back in 2013.
But after nearly five years, the 51 year old Marin native is proudly performing many of the best known songs from the jam bands southern blues, acid country rock archive that has sold over 30 million albums. That project, As The Crow Flies, features Black Crowes alumni Adam MacDougall on keyboards, Audley Freed on guitar, and Andy Hess on bass, along with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Tony Leone on drums and newcomer Marcus King on guitar.
Visiting The Fox in Oakland Friday night, the ensemble wasted little time catapulting the sold out audience into the wayback machine. Opening with “Remedy” and “Sting Me” from 1992’s “Southern Harmony and Musical Companion,” The Black Crowes second album, Robinson and Company quickly laid the groundwork for hitting every note perfectly during a raucous two hour set of fan favorites and classic rock covers.
Next up was “Twice As Hard,” the Black Crowes very first single. It was the first of four cuts played from 1990’s debut album, “Shake Your Money Maker” which has sold 5 million copies alone. The song is about not just how hard it is to leave someone for good, but how it’s even harder the second time.
While the middle part of the set often dug into the midway point of the bands chronology, it was the back end that will be long remembered by anyone that had the pleasure of seeing this tour.
Following CSNY’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” the band proceeded to turn a jazzy intro to “Wiser Time” into a cascading 20 minute masterpiece of psychedelic rock with MacDougall’s work on the keyboards shining bright. The uplifting ballad “She Talks To Angels” was next. A song Robinson wrote about a girl he often saw frequenting the Atlanta club scene during the late 80’s, (“She never mentions the word ‘Addiction,’ In certain company. Yes, she’ll tell you she’s an orphan, After you meet her family”) it remains one of the bands most recognizable.
Robinson displayed his prowess with a harmonica on “Thorn In My Pride” before launching into a set closing knockout punch of “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” which segued into a medley that included Joe South’s “Hush,” a song further popularized by Deep Purple, prior to the band briefly leaving the stage.
Returning to use their encore to present their take on a classic rock cover, as they have throughout the tour, the Oakland crowd was treated to two as both The Doors “Peace Frog” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo” brought the evening to an energetic close. It was a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. Hopefully there will be some type of CD or digital release to archive the tour. With both The Black Crowes and Robinson having a well documented affinity for live releases it would seem likely.
Unfortunately, Robinson has indicated that this tour is a one time thing for As The Crow Flies, at least for a few years. Committed to his current full-time band, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Robinson will head back into the studio to complete a new CRB album before returning to the road with the band for another summer full of touring.
Oakland’s own Once and Future Band opened the show. A lively combination of Phish jam meets progressive Genesis, they should be attracting a following of their own if Friday night was any indication.
The As The Crow Flies tour continues Saturday night at the MontBleu Casino in South Lake Tahoe before concluding in Portland Sunday evening.