SAN FRANCISCO — Newly reunited brothers Chris and Rich Robinson weren’t satisfied with just one nationwide amphitheater tour next fall. After five years apart, the songwriting forces behind Southern rock band The Black Crowes were eager to catch up. The duo scheduled a shorter 11-city acoustic trek with just the two of them—performing as the aptly named Brothers of a Feather—that sold out in a matter of minutes and concluded Friday at The Chapel.
Stripped-back and intimate were the words used to describe this tour, but as the crowd soon found out, that description didn’t mean the performance of the mostly Black Crowes’ material would be soft or mellow. These were raucous songs meant for singing along at the bar while swinging a mug of beer, or even better, a pitcher.
Rich Robinson handled all of the instrumentation on one of several brightly reverbed guitars that were switched out and tuned between songs, while his older brother handled the lead vocals. Their relationship, which had been extremely contentious over the years, seemed to have greatly improved as the the two chatted between songs—though Chris Robinson did most of the talking.
After casually kicking off with the bluesy “Jealous Again,” off 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker, Chris Robinson fetched his harmonica to intro “Hotel Illness,” from 1992 follow-up The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. The music’s Southern rock roots transferred from the original to this folkier take, but it also allowed the singer’s intensity to shine a bit brighter without the layers of the band’s arena-filling sound. Chris Robinson’s rambling delivery, backed by just his brother’s acoustic guitar, could have passed for gospel. Once Rich Robinson kicked into his metallic slide solo, The Black Crowes’ Georgia roots shined even brighter.
“These are mostly the way these songs were written; just me and Rich,” the elder Robinson said, before telling a story about writing “Wiser Time,” from 1994’s Amorica.
“When I wrote this song, I was not a very wise person. It’s poetic license, I guess,” he said.
Unlike the slacker mid-tempo album version of the tune, this was prefaced with Rich Robinson’s flamenco-like intro. The brothers harmonized on this one, with the older brother singing the low part while the guitarist sang higher. Chris Robinson let loose toward the end, tilting his head upward as if to give his gravelly snarls a straighter path to the heavens.
Starting with a cover of Gram Parsons’ 1973 tune “She,” The Black Crowes duo introduced some surprises into the set that it hasn’t been playing at recent shows. Gone was the smooth Motown vibe, replaced by a Southern grit. It was sparse at times, and gorgeously melodic at all times.
Next came “Garden Gate,” a bluegrass tune from 2009 album Before the Frost… Until the Freeze. The brothers warned the audience that they were entering a new century, though this tune could have more likely fit at a 1930-something dustbowl revival. On “Thorn in My Pride,” Chris Robinson went off about finding his angels and his devils, like an intellectual madman. This show highlight, performed at a faster pace than on The Black Crowes’ 1992 album, included a rumbling train horn of a harmonica solo during the breakdown.
Following the night’s third surprise in “Whoa Mule” and slower country tune “Oh Josephine,” the Robinsons transitioned to the hard-edged “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution.” All three tunes in this triptych were from 2008’s Warpaint, and Chris Robinson referred to them as the pillars of that album. He swung his head from side to side on the rocker.
The songs also set up the show’s climax.
The psychedelic “Soul Singing,” off 2001’s Lions, foreshadowed Chris Robinson’s later pursuit in jam band music. Next came an equally psychedelic story about running around with Jerry Garcia and the Allman Brothers. As the story went, in 1995 The Black Crowes were set to open for the Grateful Dead at Tampa Stadium. Well-known session musician Donald “Duck” Dunn invited the band to his place for a barbecue, where everyone imbibed too much. Then, the Allmans, who lived nearby, got word that the Crowes were in town and demanded that they head for their studio outside of Tampa. More drinking and smoking ensued before an alarm went off and the Allmans shouted that the police were there, or perhaps the fire department.
“‘Hide your shit!’ Chris Robinson said Greg Allman shouted. Annoyed, some demanded to know whether it was the police or fire department that had arrived, to which the Crowes’ late keyboardist Eddie Harsch responded by taking a drag from a joint and asking, “Do they have ladders or guns.”
Brothers of a Feather concluded their main set with ballad “She Talks to Angels,” one of The Black Crowes’ biggest hits, as well as “Remedy,” before taking a break and returning to play a cover of slide guitarist Ry Cooder’s twangy “Boomer’s Story.”
Up next, the Robinsons will embark on a full-band Crowes’ tour. It coincides with the 30-year anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker, which was certified quintuple-platinum. The band will play the Concord Pavilion on Sept. 8 and the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on Sept. 9.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.