CONCORD, Calif. — The last time Rich and Chris Robinson played the Bay Area, it was on March 6, 2020. The recently reunited brothers had a fall tour planned to celebrate The Black Crowes‘ landmark 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker and were so excited to play shows together again that they decided they couldn’t wait. As Brothers of a Feather, the duo played a simple acoustic set in San Francisco. By that point, the city was sufficiently spooked about the oncoming coronavirus. This writer thought he was going to die when a stranger handed him a suspicious, wrapped object (“is it contaminated!?”) that turned out to be a handmade metal feather commemorating the show.
Of course, no one knew just how bad the pandemic would get, and The Black Crowes’ 30th anniversary tour was one of many that fell by the wayside in 2020. The Robinsons and their new bandmates are making up for it now and brought their entertaining show to the Concord Pavilion for the first of two Bay Area dates. And where the duo’s simple acoustic show was a class in subtlety, this one was raucous, with amps cranked to 11, from the first few notes onward.
The Black Crowes started, like many, as a bar band, so it felt spot on that the stage production resembled the inside of one, as well as an alley behind it. The show opened with a jukebox list by a spotlight, and the band and backup singers hanging out in front of the bar, which was tended to by a bartended in a powder blue tux. One of the backup singers walked up to the jukebox and made a selection. Naturally, it was blues standard “Shake Your Money Maker.” The lights flashed off and on, and the band was now in position, seconds away from launching into “Twice is Hard.”
Chris Robinson wore a gold patterned jacket and pants that resembled fancy curtains; the jacket over a black button-up shirt with the top buttons undone, as well as a wide-brimmed western hat that soon disappeared from his head. He was twirling an umbrella like a second-line parade leader in New Orleans. This wasn’t the nostalgic Chris Robinson that told tories behind songs while sipping from a glass in San Francisco a year earlier. This was rock star Chris Robinson. Right to 11.
The first part of the set consisted of the 10 songs from Shake Your Money Maker, in order. After the melodic jolt of the opener, through which Chris Robinson danced the whole way, the band quickly transitioned to “Jealous Again,” punctuated with the rolling keyboard playing of Oakland musician Joel Robinow. Besides the Robinsons none of the other musician were longtime Crowes, but Robinow, guitarist Isiah Mitchell, drummer Brian Griffin and bassist Sven Pipien were plenty talented and held their own.
On “Sister Luck,” for example, Mitchell did some of the heavy lifting with a soulful slide solo, which Rich Robinson handled the melody.
On the swoon-worthy “Seeing Things,” the focus was dominated by the frontman’s howling vocals and Rich Robinson’s steady guitar playing until Robinow came in with a dirge-like organ section that allowed the song to keep building and building until it eventually erupted, several minutes later.
On the cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” Chris Robinson (who calls the Bay Area home) let fans sing part of the chorus while he held the microphone stand over the first few rows. Following the rollicking boogie-woogie of “Thick N’ Thin,” The Black Crowes slowed things down for an acoustic-guitar-led “She Talks to Angels.” Much of the remainder of the Shake Your Money Maker cuts like “Stare It Cold” turned the volume back up to rollicking Southern rock. There was no break afterward and the band kept right on rolling to an impassioned “No Speak No Slave.” I could feel the overwhelming guitar solo on this one in my stomach.
The second half of the set consisted of songs from other mostly older albums, like Amorica and The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. They included “Kickin’ My Heart Around,” on which Chris Robinson shot off screechy bursts from a harmonica; the rapturous “Soul Singing,” which gave the backup singers a moment to shine; and bluesy “Wiser Time.” On “Thorn in My Pride,” the Robinsons squared off in a sort of duel, with Chris sounding much stronger on his harmonica and Rich with some fun guitar licks. Overhead, a sea of oversized lightbulbs added drama and mood lighting to select moments.
The Black Crowes didn’t wind down the proceedings but put the pedal to the metal once again with the combination of “Sting Me,” “Remedy” and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” to close.
Los Angeles ’70s hard rock worshippers Dirty Honey opened the show with an extended set of material from their existing records and a forthcoming one.
The band, led by vocalist Marc Labelle, mixed the Angeleno rock of Guns N’ Roses (their heroes; they even opened for Slash when he came through San Francisco with Myles Kennedy in 2019) with the Southern rock of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the blues rock of the Black Keys.
The raspy-voiced Labelle showed considerable range and his voice never broke despite all of the screaming. Some of the tunes, like “Break You” and “When I’m Gone,” leaned more toward West Coast rock. The former dripped with thick slabs of GNR sleaze. Other like power ballad “Down the Road” and the band’s next single, “The Wire,” were more reminiscent of Southern rock.
The highlights included “Heartbreaker,” which had some choice soloing and crunchy jamming by guitarist John Notto, and the unique distorted, phase-shifted intro to “California Dreamin'” by bassist Justin Smolian.