The Black Crowes

Who Killed That Bird out on Your Window Sill

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About five minutes into the Black Crowes' first official home video, singer Chris Robinson lets the viewer in on a little "secret." Waxing nostalgic about the band's newest oeuvre, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Robinson admits, "This record is a mere image of how we live our lives. We don't separate music from our lives, this is just how we live everyday." And about three minutes later, as he comments on how the band deals with being on tour, he drives the point home. "Leon Russell once said that it's like a hippie community bona fide." Amen to that. And so it goes. Whether you like them or not, you have to give the Black Crowes props for spitting in the face of corporate rock and steadfastly believing in their own blind idealism. Not only does the band walk it like they talk it, over the years they have managed to succumb to most of the clich├ęs that go hand in hand with the creative process and the perils often associated with it. By 1992 (the year this piece was released), in its two years as a recording unit, the band had already released two records, Shake Your Moneymaker and later what many have called their career-defining moment, the aforementioned The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. After playing over 300 dates in support of their debut album, the quintet fired "liability" Jeff Cease (drug guitarist casualty numero uno) and replaced him with the stellar Marc Ford (later to become drug casualty numero dos). And so you come to this video. Who Killed that Bird on Your Window Sill is an often hilarious insight into the superficial inner-workings of this band -- one that sees the brothers Robinson doing just about everything you'd expect from them: sneering at everyone, fighting with one another, at odds with radio programmers, but most importantly, creating some of the best American rock music of the early '90s. The video also invites the casual viewer into the recording studio to catch the Crowes at work on their second record (recorded in a mere eight days). Various montages of tracks like "Black Moon Creeping" and "Sometimes Salvation" are raw and unedited. There's, of course, a bunch of the obligatory backstage mucky-muck-type footage that you'd expect from such a release, but for the most part, the big winner here is the music itself. A couple of interesting moments come to mind. First there's the band's version of "You're Wrong" (a primitive, early version of "Sting Me") and a joyous romp through "Jealous Guy" filmed in Atlanta featuring the legendary Chuck Leavell on keys. Yet still, there are other bone-chilling moments as is the case with a smoldering, quasi-religious rendition of "Stare It Cold" (one of the few live moments on this tape to feature Jeff Cease live in Moscow). As the band plays to about 300-500,000 Russians (depending on who you ask), the producers mix in footage of the band's ferocious reading of "Stare It Cold" with violent snippets of young men and women being beaten to a pulp by the Russian army (in comparison, some of this drama makes Altamont look like Disneyland). It was later revealed that the festival boasted some 15-plus deaths and about 200 rapes. Lastly, this video features a hodgepodge of "official" band clips from their first two records including "Hard to Handle," "She Talks to Angels," "Jealous Again," and "Thorn in My Pride." A few things here and there are kind of pointless like footage from the Atlanta pot festival which sees the band playing "Sting Me" in front of a huge festival audience; unfortunately, the track itself is "stripped" on (read: it's a play back from the album version). A worthy document for any self-respecting Black Crowes fan. One can only hope for perhaps a second and/or third volume one day.

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