Few would have predicted Chris and Rich Robinson — the brothers who headed up the Southern rock act the Black Crowes — sharing a stage just a few years after their band’s acrimonious breakup in early 2015. But if rock ‘n’ roll was about straight lines, it wouldn’t be as invigorating — and so, the personal paths of the Robinson brothers led them to take the stage together at Brighton Music Hall on Wednesday night, playing the first American show of 2020′s “Brothers of a Feather” tour. (The Robinsons initially used the moniker during a 2006 jaunt.) The Robinson brothers will be back in New England later this year fronting a new-look Black Crowes, playing their 1990 debut “Shake Your Money Maker” with a band of recently recruited musicians.
On Wednesday, the pair served up an amuse-bouche for this summer’s tour, stripping songs from across their three-decades-strong catalog down to their bones, mostly eschewing the winding jams that crept into the band’s set lists over the years. The two-man setup — Chris Robinson on vocal duties and the occasional harmonica solo; Rich on guitar, adding blood harmonies to tracks like 2008′s elegiac “Oh Josephine” and 1996′s rueful “Good Friday” — necessitated this approach. But unplugging also made plain how the Crowes’ distillation of American music ideals had helped them forge their own niche within the classic rock monolith. While onlookers were quick to compare them to the Rolling Stones early in their career (and the pre-grunge-era confusion over how to market new rock acts led to them being lumped in with the “Headbangers’ Ball” set in the early ’90s), the path they eventually forged, which took detours toward Southern churches, soul revivals, and jam-band festivals, was, if not singular, guaranteed to be fairly unpredictable.
Wednesday’s set was brisk and swaggering, Chris’s yelp sounding forceful if just the slightest bit burnished by time, Rich’s guitar playing encompassing the intricate lines of the band’s top-40 ballad “She Talks to Angels,” the boogieing outro of the set closer “Remedy,” and the gritty slide guitar that offset the more delicate riffs of “Wiser Time.” Ending with a cover of the similarly exploratory Little Feat’s 1970s road chronicle “Willin’,” the show was a reminder of how the Black Crowes matter-of-factly did their own thing during decades of big rock trends dominating radio and chatter — and how that approach resulted in a solidly innovative body of work.
BROTHERS OF A FEATHER: RICH AND CHRIS ROBINSON
At Brighton Music Hall, Feb. 19
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.