The Black Crowes and Reef at 3Arena, Dublin on September 21st 2022
Once upon a time, in their native England at least, tonight’s support act Reef were at least as big as the band they’ve come here to play under. The Somerset lads are uniquely representative of that part of the world. They’ve got the accents and the rugged carefree cool, absent The Wurzels daftness, but still a cider-tinged, fresh-from-the-field grittiness and a little confusion about what day it is (hey, Gary, you’re trying to get the crowd going on a Wednesday, not a Thursday, but sure you did it, and that’s what really counts).
In the name of getting to where they are today, a full 25 years after their peak, the Glastonbury act have gone in a peculiar but memorable direction. Today’s version is still ramshackle, and still features that distinct snarling vocal from hobo-chic frontman Gary Stringer, but also has something of the glorious front of a hairy 80s metal act. In fact, alongside Stringer, bassist Jack Bessant stands out amid the five-piece, turning up complete with a thick grey mane worthy of The Wurzels themselves.
There’s no subtlety here. Instead we’re treated to a pulsating set of Reef’s louder numbers delivered loudly: ‘I’ve Got Something To Say’, and their headline hit ‘Place Your Hands’ – perhaps the world’s best song about needing a hug – are both delivered relatively early.
There’s no quiet moments, not let up – an inevitable facet of reducing a long career down to a set of less than 40 minutes, perhaps – but we do get an absolutely glorious, note-perfect but funked-up version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, and the punchy slam of ‘Yer Old’ to finish. Reef, who once felt like a kind of emo-surf exploration and produced the subtle melody of ‘Levels’, have aged into a focused and disgustingly grimy rock band. We’re here for it.
As for the headliners, as they say themselves, the whole crowd knows exactly what they’re going to get from The Black Crowes tonight: punchy 1990 debut album ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ in full. And so it is, in order, vibrant, and delivered by a nine-piece band fronted by a lead man in Chris Robinson who’s clearly a student of a certain Mick Jagger. He emerges from stage side and behind their on-stage bar, complete with barman, holding a superfluous but striking umbrella.
In fact, there’s a distinct theatrical set up to the thing: the set-opening stroll on to press the buttons on a jukebox and trigger the Elmore James track the debut album is named after; the two borderline-superfluous backing singers (great for throwing shapes, almost totally absent in the sound mix), and the broader set up, which is pure ‘made in the bar, play in the
The rootsy blues rock rumbles along, with Robinson giving it the Jagger strut, the arms wide, the flick, and a host of other stage-dominating moves as he pelts though a record that’s aged, but aged nicely, relying on a certain nostalgia that already felt present on the day it was released. The highs on the album, termed a “presentation” by the band, come in that gloriously funked-up Otis Redding cover ‘Hard To Handle’ (which earns a mass sing-along), a boisterously delivered ‘Sister Luck’, and the thumping call to arms ‘Twice As Hard’.
That element of cheese that pervaded American rock in the pre-Nirvana era is clearly present, not least in Robinson’s between-song mutterings, but its offset by a sound so full and rounded that at times it kind of clutters together, a beautiful mish-mash of what Robinson is keen to remind us regularly is good ol’ rock and roll.
There’s something to be said for this full-album nostalgia. The predictability allows a focus on the performance: lead-singer heavy, visually divine, and thumpingly grimey compared to on record. Then there’s a kind of bonus bit that comes after the familiar playlist offers an exploration of the broader reaches of the band’s catalogue.
In tonight’s case, that means a few classics in ‘String Me’, a winding and extended version of ‘Thorn In My Side’ and the dirty blues of ‘Remedy’, before a quick-fire encore made up of nothing but another clear nod to Jagger and co in covering the Stones ‘Rocks Off’.
In fact, if you were being harsh on The Black Crowes, you’d say they were a Rolling Stones knock off, a version of the world’s most notorious rock band so tightly modelled on them aesthetically that they could almost step out on stage with a series of covers and it wouldn’t feel out of place.
But then there’s the grittiness, the sweaty, grimey soul born in the Georgia sun, and a sound that’s somehow glistening tight and enthrallingly shoddy all at the same time, like a practised roughness, that shines in its own right. And let’s face it, if you have to be modelled after a rock band, you could do a lot worse than the Stones.
The Black Crowes live are very ’90s, and very ’70s, and as a result feel like they almost sit outside in the conventional rock spectrum altogether. Instead, they lie out on their own, doing their own overblown brand of blues rock, as predictable as it is enthralling. Is it everything you want from this kind of thing? Not quite. But for a Wednesday night in a notable less-than-packed Point venue, it shines and entices like a sweaty comfort blanket, offering effortless familiarity.