Sibling rivalries are nothing new and date all the way back to when Abel took a rock to the head from his older brother. Nothing’s gotten that heated in the world of rock, but as fans of The Kinks, Oasis and CCR can attest, when things get bitter they can get really bitter. Chris and Rich Robinson have carved out their own niche in the legends of brotherly hate but they both put all that behind them to agree upon a tour that celebrates their debut record, Shake Your Money Maker.
As debut records go, it’s no surprise that this record made the impact it did, hitting all the right notes and tones of what would become the perfect Stones/Faces hybrid, American style, topped with big dollops of Southern rock a la Little Feat or the Allmans. Selling a hefty five million copies in the US, it would become the standard to compare against the records that followed. Thirty years is a long time and as hinted at before, stability of the band hasn’t been a hallmark so it wasn’t surprising that no original non-Robinson members were on board for this tour, which was postponed from 2020 and rescheduled due to COVID.
For longtime fans, the biggest omission was drummer Steve Gorman, but he did a bit of bridge burning when his tell-all memoir of his time in the band was published last year. However, bassist Sven Pipien brought a long-time connection to the present, having started playing with the Robinsons back in ’97. The other key element of the lineup was the presence of Isaiah Mitchell on lead guitar. A six string master most associated with burning star core heat/edge of space explorations with Earthless and Golden Void, Mitchell played with Chris at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads club in Marin, and also played guitar with Howlin Rain who toured with the Crowes in 2008 (though I can’t corroborate that Mitchell was on that tour); current tour keyboardist Joel Robinow is another Rain connection. So while some might think the tour was a hastily arranged money grab, there was definitely continuity to the Crowes’ history and present day status.
How did they sound? Well, that’s the proof of any pudding and the band delivered. Rich has a very calm and collected stage presence, not moving or emoting much while Chris prowls every square inch of the stage, singing in soulful Southern style that Jagger would try to attain on their mid-70s albums but could never quite get there. The stage was turned into a saloon with a bartender on one flank of the drum set, the other side occupied by two background singers. Popping out from under a handheld umbrella festooned with a comic book rendering of two magpies, Chris rose from the drum riser and launched into “Twice As Hard” and spent the next 75 minutes dancing and twirling around stage and singing his heart out, even managing a hip bump with brother Rich later in the set.
Playing an entire record live straight through affords little in the way of spontaneous surprises but there were a couple stashed in after Money Maker closed out with a straight fire version of “Stare It Cold,” proving that a tandem attack of a Gibson Les Paul (Robinson) with an SG (Mitchell) is a potent combination. Things got a bit off script when Chris called a member of “rock and roll royalty” to the stage in the person of Peter Wolf, and they burned through two rousing renditions of J Geils Band songs from their second album (well, one original and a well-known cover). Closing with “It’s Only Rock n Roll,” Chris prefaced the song by telling the crowd that if we run into any of the Rolling Stones around Boston to tell them that they did a good job.
Openers Dirty Honey had the looks and sounds of classic rock dialed to a T, especially singer Marc Labelle, whose vocals were nearly a dead ringer for circa 1971 Robert Plant. That said, they brought a bit of unwanted baggage from the 70s as well; does anyone really want or need to see a drum or bass guitar solo again? Just let that dinosaur die peacefully in a tar pit, please. They nodded to Boston’s hard rock history with a serviceable cover of “Last Child,” but a lot of their songs were kinda mired in very competent playing but unmemorable songcraft; closer “Rolling 7s” was by far their standout song.