The Chinese calendar may indicate the current Year of the Dog as having followed the Year of the Rooster, but for diehard fans, it’s been one prolonged and glorious Year of the Crowes since the group reconvened in March 2005 — a period marked by a blessed return to form, an abundance of shows far and wide and the inclusion of a wealth of spirited covers and dusted-off rarities of their own.
They may still be flying primarily under the radar of the industry, if not a good portion of the public at large, but any question marks regarding the band’s chemistry and commitment have all been replaced with emphatic exclamation points, as the unit has toured incessantly with a regained sense of purpose and greater perspective, given the musicians’ time apart.
Rarely does a band that has fractured and lost its way get a second chance, but the Crowes have somehow managed to find their way back, with perfs rivaling their mid-’90s heyday.
The return of original drummer Steve Gorman in May 2005 helped solidify the lineup that exhibits such profound musical unity once again, but no development was more crucial than the rapprochement of their guitarists.
Crowes songs may all largely spawn from the nimble riffs and progressions of Rich Robinson, but it’s now abundantly clear that the best of those, whether on record or wrought live, also have the gifted touch of Marc Ford over the top of them.
Ford’s soloing style ranges from the slowhanded fluidity of Eric Clapton to the reckless ragged glory of Neil Young, two of his more obvious influences. A cover of the latter’s “L.A.,” from the 1973 lost classic “Times Fades Away,” had vidscreen close-ups isolating almost exclusively on Ford as he handled lead vocals and guitar, providing what may have been his highest concert profile yet in the titular town. (As a solo artist, Ford is a habitue of venues such as the Mint and King King.)
The entire band, in fact, now has quite the rep for inhabiting classic rock covers with a ferocity equal to or greater than that of the originators, which at this show also included “Got to Get Better in a Little While” — a tasty Derek and the Dominos jam that Clapton himself has only just gotten around to revisiting live — and the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” another instance where lead singer Chris Robinson stepped back to let his brother, along with Ford and bassist Sven Pipien, step to the fore.
But Chris Robinson’s sharing of the spotlight should in no way suggest any diminishing of his own vocal prowess, as night in, night out, he still sings as if his very soul depended on it. It’s rather yet another sign of the maturation process all the band members have gone through.
The Black Crowes may not be back to filling sheds just yet — a new album that captures their rediscovered cohesiveness might change that. But this particular jaunt with openers Drive-By Truckers and Robert Randolph seems far more organic and apt to please all than last summer’s pairing with Tom Petty, whose nightly setlist hardly varied. DBT recall the deep South’s guitar armies of the past without sounding derivative, while Randolph’s pedal steel-led excursions often have Allmanesque overtones.
Tour hits Jones Beach July 19.