Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, who founded the Black Crowes more than three decades ago, were at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox on Monday night as part of their Brothers of a Feather acoustic tour. The jaunt includes nine cities ahead of a thirtieth-anniversary Black Crowes tour celebrating the band's debut, Shake Your Money Maker. That tour hits Red Rocks this summer.
Early in the hour-and-a-half-long set, Chris Robinson said the coolest part of the trek was having long hours on the bus when they could revisit the Crowes’ rock-and-roll repertoire. “That’s a fancy word for all the shit we’ve written, in case the young people don’t know about that,” he said.
Hearing these songs, essentially how they were conceived, in the intimate confines of Ophelia’s felt like hanging out with the brothers in a basement. Through most of the show, the crowd of roughly 400 was fairly respectful to the Robinson brothers, keeping the chatter to a minimum while they ran through a dozen songs from the Black Crowes' first three albums: 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker, 1992’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, and 1994’s Amorica.
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But about three-quarters through the set, just as Rich Robinson fired up “Twice as Hard” on his acoustic guitar, Chris stopped and said, “Hey, are you fucking bored, because I can hear a lot of talking. I’m being serious. You can either talk through the whole fucking thing or you can go outside and fucking talk. It’s me and Rich. It’s two of us. So if I can hear you from over there, everyone can hear you, and it’s rude. And it’s not a long fucking show, so if you can maybe get it together for another fucking 25 minutes or whatever, how’s that? Now you’ve pissed me off and made me interrupt my brother, for fuck's sake.”
It was the only time during the show where Chris showed his irritation — but his feelings were understandable. If you have the chance to see two brothers, who’ve had their share of disagreements over the past three decades, playing acoustic versions of songs — some of which have been woven into the history of rock and roll — you should be quiet. It’s a solid bet that an acoustic tour like this, with just the two brothers, probably won’t happen again, so soak it up.
Chris’s voice sounded amazing throughout the night, particularly on “She Talks to Angels,” and Rich's guitar playing was articulate, especially when he dug in during a solo on “Wiser Time.” It felt like a VH1 Storytellers episode as Chris talked about how “Cursed Diamond” was about how, when he first moved to the Hollywood Hills, he was really obsessed with the story of the Hope Diamond, the biggest diamond in the world, and how not everything that's shiny is always beautiful.
“A lot of songs are about dreams," said Chris. Not "Oh Josephine. "This is a song about when that dream is over." And “Horsehead,” he explained, was about “how typically a person writes a song about typically not doing drugs while he’s doing tons of drugs.” “Remedy” was about following your bliss, no matter what it is, and "Thorn in My Pride" was born from dreaming.
About halfway through the set, Chris said his favorite part of shows had been telling stories about Eddie Harsch, who was the Black Crowes’ keyboardist from 1991 through 2006. Harsch died in 2016, the same year he joined Rich’s Magpie Salute band. Chris said Harsch was a “fucking amazing and really out-there dude," and then recalled a time when the Crowes were in Tampa on tour with the Grateful Dead in 1995.
“And when I mean the Grateful Dead,” Chris said, "I mean Jerry Garcia when he was roaming the earth and shit. Back in the biblical times — Old Testament.”
They were hanging out and listening to R&B records at the house of Donald “Duck” Dunn, the legendary bassist who played on a ton of Stax recordings, including Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” which the Crowes covered on Shake Your Money Maker.
“Somehow, in the days before cell phones and shit, we got the call that the Allman Brothers were in the studio right up the street,” Chris said. “They’re like, ‘Come over.' It was already getting late. We jumped in the van and we went over there. It was like, oh, cool, there’s Gregg and Warren and Allen, and everyone’s there. And everyone’s jamming and getting high, and we’re jamming and smoking tons, and everyone’s doing what they’re doing, which is everything.”
Chris said the studio started filling up with cigarette and weed smoke when suddenly the lights went on and the alarm went off. The people working at the studio were running around, and Gregg Allman asked what was going on.
“And the dudes are like, it’s the fucking cops, hide the guns," Chris continues. "Another motherfucker running in — the fire department’s here. It’s the police. The police are outside. It’s a Chinese fire drill. Everyone’s running around and shit. I’m standing there with Ed, and finally Gregg gets up, and he goes, ‘Goddammit, what it is? Is it the police or is it the fire department?’
“And Ed Harsch is just smoking a giant joint, and he goes, 'I don’t know, man, do they got ladders or do they got guns?’" Chris recalls. "By the way, the fucked-up thing was, it was nothing. We just set the fucking alarm off. Gregg Allman was scared to death. That’s a story we can tell about Ed, and he had his pants on and shit.”
While Chris did most of the talking between songs, near the end of the set, he asked if Rich wanted to say anything.
“I don’t need to talk,” Rich said. “Chris is great at it.”
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“By the way, I had to get great at it because you never fucking say anything,” Chris said.
“He talks for two,” Rich said.
“It’s an argument to be made that I talk for sixteen people,” Chris said. “At least a baker’s dozen.”
Man, it's good to see these guys together on stage again.