The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Review: The Black Crowes

All the way from Atlanta, Georgia, Southern rock heroes The Black Crowes brought their Happiness Bastards tour to Tyneside. Simon Rushworth rocked out with the Robinson brothers
Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes. Credit: Gordon Armstrong

More than 30 years since the Robinson brothers last charmed Newcastle with their Southern rock-fuelled brand of bar room blues it was time for Tyneside to reacquaint itself with one of the most beguiling bands on the planet.

And right from the first few captivating notes of the reassuringly groovy opener Bedside Manners this felt like an intimate reunion of long-lost friends determined to roll back the years and remember the good times.

The patchwork quilt of a backline, piled high and jigsawed together to give the impression of a warehouse jam, undulating string of lights bordering a giant dressing room-style mirror and the band’s trademark, laid back delivery underpinned the overriding, at times overwhelming, sense of familiarity and conviviality.

Whether Chris Robinson truly appreciated the close proximity to his audience — he didn’t even like being anywhere near his own brother for years — was difficult to ascertain. “I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he teased. “But this is the smallest place we’ve played in some time.”

How refreshing to see faces, quirks, emotion and pride rather than dimly-lit figures hiding in the shadows, their personalities diluted by darkness

Now Newcastle’s O2 City Hall isn’t titchy by any means. For instance, its new(ish) 2,600-capacity is larger than Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium (2,460), Montreal’s M Telus (2,300) and The Music Hall Of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn (a meagre 650!) — all venues graced by the Crowes in the last few weeks.

But if Robinson senior was simply attempting to double down on that joyous sense of informality then it did the trick. This felt like Atlanta’s finest had stepped off the tour bus and into your best friend’s front room, such was the warm and fuzzy feel around this special show.

Let’s just row back on those lights, for a moment. 

As well as the string of bulbs, the whole stage was illuminated to a degree rarely seen in the live arena. 

How refreshing to see faces, quirks, emotion and pride rather than dimly-lit figures hiding in the shadows, their personalities diluted by darkness.

Early adopters of The Black Crowes first saw the light 40 years ago. Now, thanks to the intuitive lighting director responsible for a quite staggering spectacle, those same devotees of the swaggering Georgians can actually see the band.

The individual in question deserved to take a standing ovation alongside the evening’s star performers such was his/her/their key contribution to a near-perfect night.

That’s the visual. What about the audio?

Well, the sound guy gets an equally hearty pat on the back.

From Rich Robinson’s adroit fretwork to the soulful refrain of the Crowes’ gospel-tinged backing singers and Chris’s classic tone to those spiralling keys, this was a sonic mix for the ages — truly befitting the up close and personal vibe.

A sizeable chunk of the audience might not have been born the last time the band stopped off in Newcastle but nothing was left to chance on the night they did, finally, return. This wildly entertaining affair rapidly became the benchmark for live music in 2024.

The lighting at The Black Crowes’ O2 City Hall show was on a different level. Credit: Gordon Armstrong

Keen to show off their enduring quality with no fewer than five tracks from latest long player Happiness Bastards, the Crowes nevertheless delivered a career-spanning set of suitably riotous rock and roll.

Twice As Hard sounded 10 times as good catapulted towards the top of the show and how good to hear the Stonesy Sister Luck in such a uniquely affecting setting.

Then there was the striking Sting Me and prescient Thorn In My Pride, from 1992’s peerless The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Incredible.

Even Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution (the lukewarm reception to the mere mention of Warpaint said it all) sounded disarmingly dynamic in an environment built for sweet celebration.

Witnessing The Black Crowes live is like worshipping at the church of Southern rock and experiencing some kind of quasi-religious awakening.

Chris Robinson joked it would be some time in the distant future before Newcastle would see the like again. Let’s pray it ain’t so.

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