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The Black Crowes: Manchester O2 Apollo – Live Review


The Black Crowes | Jim Jones All Stars
O2 Apollo, Manchester
14th May 2024

Since they burst onto the scene with their 1990 smash debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, the trials and tribulations of The Black Crowes have been well-documented. Sex & drugs & rock & roll don’t come close, but of course, the feuding Robinson brothers have grabbed the headlines over the years with their failure to see eye to eye putting some of the other famous sibling rivalries in the shade. While the likes of the Gallaghers and the Davies brothers have almost thrived on the adverse publicity, it has often served as an unwanted distraction for the Atlanta, Georgia band, diverting attention from the fact that they are amongst the finest purveyors of quality rock music to have graced the past few decades.

Thankfully, those personal differences did nothing to diminish the artistic flair when Chris and Rich could actually bear to be in the same room together. But while several self-imposed hiatuses may have served to impede their progress, it appears that all has been sweetness and light since the most recent re-formation, and tonight sees the self-styled Happiness Bastards roll into town in celebratory and reconciliatory mood on the first night of the European leg of the tour.

The Jim Jones All Stars are aptly named as they prove to be the perfect warm-up act, performing a blistering set to the delight of the early arrivals. Jim is something of a rock ‘n’ roll legend in his own right having appeared in various guises over the years, and like a fine wine, he just gets better with age – as proved by last year’s excellent Ain’t No Peril album. The All Stars play music steeped in Mississippi magic and atmosphere, drawing inspiration from the unique flamboyance associated with the area, but with a hefty dose of down-and-dirty garage rock thrown in for good measure.

The Black Crowes: O2 Apollo, Manchester – Live Review

The sartorially elegant eight-piece make for quite a spectacle, with the singer’s impressively gravelly voice supplemented by dual sax, dual guitars, dual tambourines, multiple hand claps, keys and a pulsating rhythm section. The excellent sound and lighting bear testament to the fact that the hosts are happy to let their fellow musicians shine. The svelte Jones commands the stage (and the mosh pit), impishly strutting and gyrating as he whips his bandmates into a frenzy. This bunch are a riot, with the heady, vibrant blend of blues, jazz, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and boogie-woogie going down a storm as their 30-minute slot flies by. You can catch them casting their spell on their headline tour which hopefully comes to a town near you this autumn.

Appropriately enough, The Black Crowes take the stage to the strains of It’s A Long Way To The Top. The splendid Happiness Bastards album, aptly described by Chris Robinson as a ‘Saturday night’ record, is the first collection of original Crowes material in 15 years and the headliners kick off the show, as they do the album, with the rip-roaring Bedside Manners, proving they have lost none of that swaggering visceral energy in the intervening eons. ‘Manchester, what’s up? Welcome to the happiness bastards!’ hollers Chris before they follow up with the superbly sleazy Rats And Clowns, another new song which sees Rich, a ridiculously accomplished and underrated guitarist, effortlessly firing off his trademark riffs. But we don’t have to wait long before being treated to one of the many stone-cold classics on display tonight in the form of Twice As Hard, an all-time favourite from the first album.

The Black Crowes: O2 Apollo, Manchester – Live ReviewWhile the Robinson brothers have demonstrated they still have what it takes to produce great records, tonight they leave us in no doubt that they also remember how to put on a great show. The 57-year-old singer sashays about the stage, cavorting and preening like a man half his age, Jagger, Stewart and Johansen rolled into one. The set looks magnificent, a rock ‘n’ roll circus complete with a giant dressing room mirror, stacks of vintage amps, carnival lights and a large cut-out of Chuck Berry, lest we forget where the Crowes came from. Chris is the great showman at the centre of it all, resplendent in red and black pinstripes. Drummer, keys and backing singers are positioned atop large risers with a design clearly underlying that this is far from just a two-man show.

The evening continues with a well-balanced selection of new material, the tried and trusted and the odd curveball. The Black Crowes have an extensive repertoire and keep things fresh by rarely playing the same set from one night to the next, displaying their uncanny knack for mixing and matching different styles to produce their inimitable sound. Southern boogie meets rhythm and blues mixed with soul, pop, psychedelia, and disco, all delivered with style and panache. Chris, on top form throughout, wryly introduces the wasted anthem, Gone, from the Amorica album with; ‘Pretty much sums up what 1995 was like for me.’ The singer then enthuses; ‘We’re excited to have some new music to play after a very long time’, before a rare false start halts Cross Your Fingers in its tracks. Rich tweaks his tuning, much to the amusement of Big Brother, who quips; ‘Imagine coming all the way to Manchester for that!’ Fortunately, there are no recriminations.

The Black Crowes: O2 Apollo, Manchester – Live Review

The beautiful country-tinged ballad, Wilted Rose, provides a change of pace with the soulful backing singers and some gorgeous guitar work from Rich grabbing the limelight. A playful romp through Jerry Lee Lewis’s High School Confidential and the Otis Redding standard Hard To Handle, which provided the young Crowes with such a massive hit, have the band proudly displaying their roots, while the superb lead single from the new album, Wanting And Waiting, brings us bang up to date. An almost painfully poignant ‘She Talks To Angels’ highlights the brothers’ chemistry, with Rich’s acoustic combining with Chris’s soaring vocal to splendid effect. The band bring normal proceedings to a close all guns blazing with stirring renditions of crowd-pleasers Sting Me, Jealous Again and Remedy, encoring with a giddy cover of Elmore James’s Shake Your Money Maker, before happily convening centre stage to accept the enthusiastic plaudits.

The Black Crowes: O2 Apollo, Manchester – Live Review

If The Black Crowes spent much time ruing what might have been had the Robinsons been able to maintain diplomatic relations throughout the past thirty years or so, there was little sign of it tonight. Older and wiser, the brothers are grateful to have been given another opportunity to shine, genuinely happy to be enjoying the company of one another and their fellow musicians. They have grasped that opportunity to prove that, while trends come and go, there will always be a place for high-quality, old-school rock ‘n’ roll.

Please note: Use of these images in any form without permission is illegal. Please contact the photographer for any enquiries.

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All words by Robin Boardman. More writing from Robin for Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.

All pictures by Mike Gray

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