The Black Crowes 2024
Photo: Steve Carlson / Fox Theater

The Black Crowes Soar with Fresh Tracks and Deep Cuts

This version of the Black Crowes are returning to the straight-ahead, swaggering rock and blistering blues that put them on the map in the early 1990s.

It’s a Saturday night in uptown Oakland, and it’s raining in the Bay Area again on 13th April. But the rock ‘n’ roll crowd is gathering like birds of a feather because the Black Crowes are here to light a fire at the Fox Theater. Back on tour since brothers Chris and Rich Robinson buried the hatchet from a long-running feud in 2020, the band has recently released their first album of new material in 15 years with 2024’s Happiness Bastards.

Before the Frost… Until the Freeze (2009) was an ambitious and multi-dimensional gem of a double album that propelled the band through several years of solid touring until they broke up in 2014. However, one listening of the new album makes it clear that this version of the Black Crowes is going for a return to the straight-ahead sound of swaggering rock and blistering blues that put the band on the map in the early 1990s. Their live shows also had a jammy psychedelic component that stood out several years before the jam-rock scene really took off, leading fans to want to catch multiple shows on a tour. But the songs always came first.

“We knew that we wanted to make like a rock and roll record, a Saturday night record, up-tempo, big riffs. We’re very visceral. It has to feel a certain way for us,” singer Chris Robinson told CBS News regarding songwriting for the new album. Fans are therefore amped up about the return of the Black Crowes for a Saturday night fiesta here, at a relatively intimate venue compared to the larger sheds and festivals the band has been playing in recent years, like the Concord Pavilion on 2021’s summer tour. 

Photo: Steve Carlson / Fox Theater

The Black Crowes hit the town after playing the LA Greek Theater the previous night, where none other than Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood sat in for an encore on the Faces’ “Stay With Me”. Certain critics and hipster pundits may like to take issue with how the Black Crowes’ current lineup doesn’t have as many former band members as they might want or how some business matters might not have been well handled in the past. But the reality is that the Robinson Brothers have always been the driving creative force behind the band. If this lineup works for them now to move forward, then let there be rock!

On that note, AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” plays on the PA as the lights go down at 9:00 pm. It’s one of the greatest anthems ever about being in a band and transcending all the bullshit that can get in the way, so it feels like an appropriate tune to set the tone here. The Black Crowes hit the stage with a blast of energy as they rock out on “Bedside Manners” and “Rats and Clowns”, the first two songs from the new record. 

The time-space continuum shifts by three decades with “Twice As Hard”, the first song from the band’s debut album plays. Many fans whip out their cell phones to video the moment, making it feel similar to when Guns N’ Roses play “Welcome to the Jungle”. Yet, while this is a questionable trend among concertgoers in the 2020s, it shows how much sentiment there is amongst the fanbase for this song. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll gem that conjures a more innocent era, particularly for the Gen-Xers who were in college when it came out. It sounds fabulous here with Rich Robinson’s slide guitar and the female backing singers, vintage Black Crowes all the way.

Photo: Steve Carlson / Fox Theater

Chris speaks of playing a deep cut, and “Just Say You’re Sorry” hits the mark, both as an obscure B-side from 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm sessions and as a fitting tune for the two brothers coming together again after having spent five years apart not talking. It’s a groovy, feel-good rocker with some infectious boogie-woogie piano from keyboardist Erik Deutsch. Longtime bassist Sven Pipien holds down the low end with style all night, while drummer Cully Symington and guitarist Nico Bereciartua are rock solid. But the focus is, of course, on the Robinson Brothers.

Chris says something about playing a song that generates some hope for positive outcomes in these dark times and it turns out to be long time fan favorite “My Morning Song”, from 1992’s Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. The Black Crowes’ stellar second album elevated their rising star at the time, as did the tour that showed this was a band that also liked to stretch out for some heady improvisation at times. The vibe is lit now as Chris sings of letting your heart and soul go, with the band conjuring that freewheeling feeling from the 1990s when the Black Crowes surged as a genuine force in the rock ‘n’ roll counterculture.

“Cross Your Fingers” is another winner from the new album, with some bluesy slide guitar from Rich over a more syncopated groove while Chris sings of elemental forces like lightning, rain, and thunder.  Likewise for “Follow the Moon”, an upbeat rocker that sounds fresh and retro all at once. “Wanting and Waiting” reveals further depth on Happiness Bastards, with killer riffs from Rich and some of Chris’ most accessible vocals as he sings out on that universal feeling of existential loneliness from waiting for an elusive lady of desire to get herself together.

Photo: Steve Carlson / Fox Theater

There are more pleasantly surprising deep-cut gems as well with “Under a Mountain”, the opening track from Three Snakes and One Charm that felt like an instant classic when the album dropped but which oddly didn’t seem to last long in the repertoire. The shimmering intro sounds sensational as the band rocks with a fresh vibrancy on the dynamic tune. Then there’s “Kickin’ My Heart Around”, a scintillating rocker from 1998’s By Your Side album that also soon faded in the repertoire. After spending more than a year touring their debut album in its entirety for its 30th anniversary, it’s refreshing to see the Crowes dipping deeper into their vast repertoire here.

“Hard to Handle” brings the house down with the band’s patented cover of the Otis Redding classic that became a huge hit from their debut album, kicking the Saturday night dance party into high gear. The obligatory “She Talks to Angels” brings things down for a heartfelt breather, but the band soon gets back to rocking on the new “Flesh Wound” about a contentious breakup.

Then, it’s full-throttle rock down the stretch as the band tears it up on the incendiary “No Speak No Slave”, sends the audience into harmonious collective unity with the timeless grooving of “Jealous Again”, and delivers a hot “Remedy” to close the set with a full dose of signature musical medicine. 

As with the previous night in Los Angeles, a special guest appears for the encore. This time, renowned guitarist Charlie Sexton joins the Black Crowes for a smoking take on Chuck Berry’s “Carol”. It’s vintage feel-good rock ‘n’ roll, and it sure sounds refreshing here in 2024.

Photo: Steve Carlson / Fox Theater