Flashback: The Black Crowes Remember QE2

Celebrating their 20th anniversary, the Black Crowes are winging their way into Albany for a marathon show at the Palace Theatre on Friday night.

The band – which is planning to take an extended hiatus after the current “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour – will be performing a 90-minute acoustic set followed by another 90-minute rockin’ electric set on Friday.

Over the years, the Black Crowes have had a special place in their hearts for the Capital Region, and they’ve played a wide variety of venues around town from Saratoga Winners to the Palace, from the Glens Falls Civic Center to the Times Union Center to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where they headlined the H.O.R.D.E. Festival.

And although this year marks the band’s 20th anniversary, they actually made their Albany debut more than 20 years ago. In the late ’80s, they were an unheralded band still known by their original name, Mr. Crowe’s Garden, when they first graced an Albany stage at the late, great QE2.

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They weren’t even the main attraction that night. They were the opening act for the local band, Made in Austria. They hadn’t released their debut album yet. In fact, they weren’t even signed at the time, although I remember sitting at the bar for an hour or so with lead singer Chris Robinson, who thought that maybe – just maybe – the band might have attracted some record company interest at their show at CBGB’s the night before they came to QE2.

As I recall, there weren’t more than a dozen people in the audience at QE2, but Mr. Crowe’s Garden sure did rock the place, and you could tell that something big was just around the corner for them.

Back then, they were still a struggling Atlanta-based band on their first roadtrip to the Northeast, test-driving raw, soul-soaked rockers like “Jealous Again” and “Could I’ve Been So Blind” that would later show up on their 1990 debut album.

“I was 17 years old at the time,” recalls the Crowes’ guitarist-songwriter (and Chris’ brother) Rich Robinson. “It was our first little tour, and we drove all the way up there from Georgia. Then we found out that we had no money.

“We’d gone to Boston, but our gig was canceled because there was no sound system. Then we played CBGB’s in New York and made $24. Finally, the night after CBGB’s, we drove up to Albany and played at QE2. I remember that everyone at the club was really cool. The club paid us $150 and took us out to dinner. We were thrilled. The QE2 was our saving grace.”

Robinson stops short of saying that the band might have called it quits if they hadn’t been bolstered by a shot of Albany hospitality, but it’s clear from his conversation that even all these years later, the band still harbors a deep appreciation for our town.

“We always remembered how good they were to us at QE2,” Robinson says with considerable affection, “and any time that we came to town to play at the arena or the Palace, we’d always go over to the QE2 afterward just to have a few drinks and hang out.”

Steve Gorman was there behind the drums for that show at QE2, too, and he’ll be back in the saddle once again when the band lands at the Palace on Friday. Just last week, he sent out a couple of tweets:

“Albany looms. Home of the QE2. Home of Sarge. Home of the best Mr. Crowes Garden show of all time. Ah, the salad days.”

“November 13, 1988. Willie Horton had just defeated Dukakis earlier in the week. MCG rolled up to the QE2. For those that were there….”

Sadly, QE2 shuttered its doors for the last time more than a decade ago, but – who knows? – maybe the Robinson brothers, Gorman and the rest of the band will make an after-concert stop at the Fuze Box (the former site of the QE2) on Friday night.

Just for old times’ sake…

The Black Crowes play the Palace Theatre in Albany at 8pm on Friday. Tix are $42.50.

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