American cosmos The Black Crowes have fallen into a black hole. It will take more than a performance like this to dig them out...
Perhaps it’s simply an elegant swoop from bigger venues to something more intimate before resuming normal flying altitude, but it’s hard to dispel suspicions that the Crowes’ day in the commercial blue sky has passed.
Outside, the touts can’t shift any tickets and inside, a fiercely partisan crowd awaits the arrival of Chris and Rich Robinson’s outfit. Still, this might be A Good Thing, as the feistily self-contained southern rockers – chips on both shoulders, pride bulging in their britches – probably relish the chance to knock the naysayers back to kingdom come. The South will rise again and all that.
Opening impressions don’t disappoint, with thunder chords blasting out ‘Remedy’, Chris camping it up all in white, chest pushed out of his pipe-cleaner frame, climbing imaginary ladders as the guitars attempt to spiral to the moon. A night on the tiles with this guy playing the queen and clown, the tramp and the trouper could be fun, and the back-to-basics thrust of the new album bodes well for a renewed assault on their much-vaunted journey into “cosmic American music”.
But almost as soon as they begin the problems mount. The sound is thicker than Memphis mud; when an audience member informs Chris of this halfway through, he tells the punter to move elsewhere.
Like someone who has just discovered Steve Tyler’s Big Book Of How To Rip Off Your Idols And Know No Shame, Chris quickly becomes a parody, a pantomime turn. That shouldn’t in itself be fatal, but there’s precious little to subvert the image: his lyrics are seldom more than strings of clichis and the music fashioned by younger brother Rich is similarly unimaginative. Sure, he and the touring guitarist have a fat arsenal of dirty riffs, but the playing is often sloppily laboured, big sledgehammers used to crack peanuts.
Diverting but ultimately small-time, during their journey into the American cosmos The Black Crowes have fallen into a black hole. It will take more than a performance like this to dig them out.