by Sean Corbett

In order to warm up for their seven night string of sold out shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, The Black Crowes, hidden behind the alias of Mr. Crowe’s Garden, took the stage at Toad’s Place, a bar/concert venue in New Haven.

Rick Demko, the bookings coordinator at Toad’s Place, explained how the venue had to remain faithful to their gag order, as defined by the band’s tour manager. To paraphrase, he told me that if Toad’s Place were to break the news to anyone, the band would not play a single note.

Back in 1984, when Chris and Rich Robinson formed their band, it was called Mr. Crowe’s Garden, and it is common to find them warming up under this name before a large tour. I have come to find out, after talking with Rick Demko and other serious fans of various bands that warm up shows played under alias names are not rare. Bands such as Phish, Pearl Jam, The Rolling Stones and others do it regularly to keep in touch with their true fans in a much more intimate setting. So keep your eyes peeled; your favorite band could be playing at a local bar this weekend, and you wouldn’t even know until afterward.

Not being an intense fan of The Black Crowes did not hinder my experience at this particular show. They are an eight-piece band, with two lead guitarists, a keyboardist, a bass guitar player, a drummer, two soulful backup singers, and of course, Chris Robinson right up front with a microphone and an occasional harmonica or tambourine.

The crowd at Toad’s Place, eager to see the band take the stage, screamed, clapped, chanted and banged on the floor for nearly an hour until that last light went out, and the band followed a flashlight’s beacon onto the stage from the dressing room below. They took their places and without a word broke into song. The rest of the night was filled with first class Rock n’ Roll. Present-day classic rock poured seamlessly from the instruments and vocal chords of the eight rock stars, hard at work.

The sea of people at their feet begged them to stay for nearly two-and-a-half hours. They complied with great enthusiasm and played many fan favorites. Fan favorites, I came to find out, are not the same as radio hits. Songs such as “She Talks to Angels,” “Hard to Handle,” “Twice as Hard,” and “Remedy” were not heard. One surprise was a Bob Dylan cover to kick off the encore, “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” reportedly being played for the first time by the band.

Some of the unique aspects of the night included a large tour bus parked right out in front of the venue, an appearance from Chris Robinson’s wife Kate Hudson on the back balcony, and a false rumor that lingered for the entire evening that Keith Richards, of Westport, would play during the encore.

Chris Robinson’s unprecedented vocal performance encompasses everything that is great about music. With a wide range, a unique rasp, a toe-tapping funky quality and an overwhelming stage presence, Robinson’s performance rivals that of seasoned veteran Steve Tyler of Aerosmith.

Anyone who has their hands on a Hammerstein Ballroom ticket for their appearances from the March 22 to March 30, consider yourself blessed by the gods of Rock n’ Roll. These guys put on a ridiculously entertaining show, even if you don’t know a single song they are playing. Tickets are still available for their April tour of the south.

If you have never heard of The Black Crowes, or if you are somewhat unfamiliar with them, their music is, without contest, worth investigating, purchasing or downloading.

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