Joshua Tehee: Black Crowes continue to play on their own terms

The Fresno BeeNovember 17, 2013 

The reunited Black Crowes will play at Table Mountain Casino on Tuesday

ROSS HALFIN / SPECIAL TO THE BEE

The Black Crowes have always been a bit of an anomaly.

Formed in Georgia in 1989 by brothers Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson, the band's style of '70s-era blues revival rock stood out from the alternative music that dominated mainstream airwaves at the time.

It's probably the reason the band is still around.

"We always felt we were impervious to the winds of any given time," says Steve Gorman, who plays drums for the band, which brings its "Lay Down with Number 13" tour to Table Mountain Casino on Tuesday.

Considered classic rock more than its chosen genre, The Black Crowes have sold 35 million copies of their 11 studio albums. The band was named as one of the 100 greatest hard-rock bands by VH1. Their second album, "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion," topped the Billboard 200 in 1992. "Warpaint" reached No. 5 on the charts 16 years later.

The band always has been aware -- and weary -- of the record industry machine, Gorman says, the cycle of press interviews, music-video shoots, the pressure on album sales.

The band's third album went gold when it was released in 1994, selling more than 500,000 copies. It was considered a disappointment.

By then, the band was tired of the cycle, and they weren't good at faking it.

"That stuff never held any allure or interest to us," Gorman says. "We were terrible in videos."

Eventually, they quit caring and focused on "being the band we used to sit around thinking about being," he says.

Which brings up the current tour. It's a reunion, of sorts. The band ended a two-year hiatus when it went back on the road last year. "When we've taken breaks, we all get very immersed in whatever else we're doing," Gorman says. He hadn't anticipated getting back together so soon, but the timing seemed right and when they put feelers out about a possible tour they received good response.

"Suddenly there's offers from everywhere," he says. "So, we said, 'Let's just play some dates and see where we end up.' "

It's a tour outside the music-industry cycle. There's no album to support. And 2014 won't be a Black Crowes year, Gorman says. That's fine.

"I'm enjoying not having a record out to worry about," he says.

In truth, they didn't need it.

The band has a large fan base (they sold out five shows in the UK on the first leg of the tour) and a vast catalog of songs. They also like to add in a cover tune or two to the setlist — something they picked up from R.E.M., who always incorporated a few covers in their sets and famously stopped playing their best-known hits.

At a recent show, The Black Crowes played both The Rolling Stones' "Let it Bleed" and Bob Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo."

They didn't play "She Talks to Angels," the band's 1990 hit.

That's not unusual. The band tends to shy away from playing the mega-hits (to the chagrin of some fans). But after all these years the songs have slowly been worked back into the sets, Gorman says.

"We've played 'Hard to Handle' a ton this year."

Show info

Who: The Black Crowes

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Table Mountain Casino

Tickets: $40-$50

Details: (559) 822-7777, tmcasino.com  

This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com

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