As The Crow Flies | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN
As the Crow Flies, it lands in Philadelphia
On Wednesday night at the Electric Factory, former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson took to the stage with five other musicians, including former Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall, guitarist Audley Freed and bassist Andy Hess. The other two were 22-year-old guitar phenom Marcus King and drummer Tony Leone, who played drums in Robinson’s post-Crowes band, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Together, this band of musicians refer to themselves as As The Crow Flies – a perfect name for a Black Crowes cover band, which is essentially what they are. The band is the brainchild of Robinson, who decided that it was time to start performing Black Crowes songs again for the first time in more than four years. Unfortunately, some bad blood between many of the former Black Crowes members – including Chris Robinson and his brother Rich Robinson – meant that a true Black Crowes reunion was not in the cards. So Robinson did the next best thing, he started a cover band and called it something vaguely similar.
It’s an appropriate title, because that’s exactly what Philadelphians heard Wednesday night: a performance that sounded not like The Black Crowes, but something vaguely similar. As someone who’s seen The actual Black Crowes approximately ten years ago when they also played the Electric Factory, I can tell you that what was especially missed was the lead-guitar prowess of Luther Dickinson or Marc Ford, and the seriously underrated drumming of long-time Crowes drummer Steve Gorman. Gorman, who became a founding member of Trigger Hippy with Joan Osbourne in 2009, had an underappreciated ability to swing a beat like no other. Rich Robinson, who was one of the original Black Crowes members, played a pivotal songwriting role in the band, and always had a knack for going into extended solos and jam sessions onstage, to make the live performance something other that just a simple rehash of what you heard on the album.
On the whole, a sense of chemistry was lacking between the musicians onstage Wednesday night, which can partially be attributed to the newness of the band. After all, it was only their second-ever performance. But it can also possibly be attributed to the fact that As The Crow Flies is nothing more than a duct-taped together hodgepodge of musicians who simply don’t have the same feel and chemistry The Black Crowes did. And sure, The Black Crowes in many ways had a revolving door of members in the band, but Gorman and the Robinson brothers were always the three key constants that kept everything entertaining and grounded. Take two of those three away and it’s simply not the same. It makes it seem as if the band was formed not to revive the glory of old Black Crowes songs, but, rather, to make a quick buck.
Another interesting difference was the set list. My lasting memory of seeing The Black Crowes ten years ago is that they didn’t play any of the hits at the time. “Hard to Handle,” “Remedy,” and “She Talks to Angels” were all absent from that performance, which was kind of endearing in a way. It proved the band wasn’t willing to rehash the hits for people as if they’re a jukebox – they wanted to enjoy playing the songs they played and if that meant doing a set full of deep cuts, that’s what they did. Wednesday night’s set list consisted only of the hits, and by all accounts was the same exact set they played in New York the previous night.
If you’re a casual Black Crowes fan, Wednesday night’s set was probably worth the price of admission. But the die-hards may have found the performance inauthentic and uninspired. It’s frustrating knowing that none of the key members of the Black Crowes have died or are incapable of performing in any way (UPDATE: The Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch, who joined the band during the Southern Harmony era, passed away in 2016). If they really wanted to, they could reform one of the greatest bands of the 90s and continue to make great music (the band’s most recent album, 2009’s Before the Frost…Until the Freeze was actually pretty good, proving that the Georgia band still had gas left in the tank). Until that happens, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for a reunion. That would be the remedy to please me.
Twice As Hard
By Your Side
High Head Blues
Almost Cut My Hair (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover)
She Talks to Angels
Thorn in My Pride
Mr Morning Song
Hard to Handle (featuring a mid-song jam to Joe South/Deep Purple’s “Hush”)
I’d Love to Change The World (Ten Years After cover)