It’s amazing how for as long as this blog has been going I have yet to discuss or even mention The Black Crowes. I say this because they are one of my favorite bands, and have been since I was about 14. They are one of three bands/artists I have seen more than 10 times (Ben Folds and Medeski Martin & Wood being the other two) and have been one of the most important musical influences in my life. I could give a whole back story on my affinity for the Crowes, but I’ll refrain so we can get right down to last night’s show.
There is no doubt in my mind that The Black Crowes are one of the best live bands out there. Not only do they play as a cohesive unit, they also have an extensive catalog of songs, filled with a plethora of originals and an immense amount of covers. What this means is that no matter what night you go see them, you will be treated to a totally unique show and setlist. On top of all of this is the fact that when they headline, their shows run for a minimum of two hours. Essentially, you are going to get your money’s worth, that is if you are okay with the probability of not hearing most of their singles and listening to some extended solos and/or jams. Still, if you want to hear some great rock music played by a band that has been at it for over 20 years, then this is your band.
This was my twelfth Crowes show (if you include a Chris and Rich Robinson acoustic show) and I can easily say, while I’ve never seen a bad show from the band, this one was pretty great. Right from the start, the band was cooking, and visably having fun playing with each other (which if you know anything about the band, wasn’t always the case). With one minor exception, the setlist was incredibly solid. A great mix of originals and covers, the band actually played more “hits” than usual, and had only one song that would be even remotely considered a deep cut from their back catalog. Ironically that song, “Garden Gate,” was also the outlier of the night, but more on that later.
For the most part, the show was one where you saw a band get back to what it was primarily known for, which in this case meant a band playing some straight ahead rock and roll. More than half of the songs came from their first three albums, Shake Your Money Maker, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, and Amorica, which was fine by me since they are definitely three of their best (the latter two being, in my eyes, their two best). This made the show feel like the band was just throwing musical haymakers all night, which not only delighted myself, but most of the crowd as well.
The band started off with a bevy of these early songs, including an interesting mini-medley of “My Morning Song” into “Stare It Cold” into a gospel breakdown before going back into “My Morning Song.” While this seems to be a new twist to some older songs, it was easily one of the best moments of the night having amazing energy throughout the entire medley. Interestingly another highlight of the show was another mini-medley of “Hard to Handle” into Deep Purple’s “Hush.” While the execution of “Hush” could use some tightening up (they’ve only performed the cover a few times), the band’s vocal harmonies were on full display, which is saying something.
Let me take a moment to step back and explain what I mean. Lead singer, Chris Robinson, has one of the most rock and roll voices of all time (my father once said he was the next Paul Rodgers), and his voice is one of the reasons the band was so successful and well known. However, most of the band’s previous lineups did not consist of guys who had great voices, for harmony or lead. This was compensated by the fact that the band toured with two female backup singers for most their career. However, it seems that the band has abandoned that concept for the time being. Thankfully, they now have guys who can sing well. Guitarist, Rich Robinson’s (Chris’s brother) voice has gotten better over the years, and is now at the point where he can sing lead and I can actually enjoy the song. Bassist Sven Pipien has an underrated voice, and easily the best man for harmonizing with Chris Robinson. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall added some depth to the harmonies, as did new guitarist Jackie Greene. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see and hear the band do this, and I though I loved the backup singers, they weren’t missed at all.
I should also take the time to talk about the band’s playing last night. Overall, they were great, even with a couple of interesting moments (mainly due to Greene not knowing all of the songs as well as the other five members). Chris Robinson was, as expected, dominant. As I said earlier, he has one of those ultimate rock and roll voices, having the ability to sing with such passion and cockiness, while being perfectly in tune. He is also, in my mind, one of the best frontmen in rock, following in the footsteps of Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Paul Rodgers. Guitarists Rich Robinson and Jackie Greene were ripping it up all night, though there was a lot less interplay between the two than there has been between Robinson and other former Crowes guitarists (I’m sure this will come in time as long as Greene stays on with the band, though he will never be Marc Ford). Drummer Steve Gorman was his normal rock solid self, keeping the groove going the entire night. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall was fantastic, and though he is no Ed Harsch (the band’s original and longtime keyboardist), has definitely brought a different (more jazzy) element to the group, especially during the solos. Oh, and he loves playing the clavinet, and there is never too much clavinet. Finally, there is bassist Sven Pipien. Like his singing, Pipien’s bass playing is, to me, underappreciated. Not only is he always in the pocket with Gorman, but his ability to add little licks and riffs in the middle of songs adds another layer to the band. Yet, he knows his place, never trying to overstep the rest of the group, while still doing his thing. It is simply a joy to watch and listen to him play. Then again, seeing this band live is always a treat. But let’s get back to the setlist…
Besides the aforementioned songs, other highlights from the night were “Wiser Time,” “Thorn In My Pride” (but when is this song not a highlight?), and a cover of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo.” The two Crowes originals are songs that are played regularly, and for good reason. Both songs have emotional buildups that bring the crowd to a frenzy, as well as having extended breakdowns/solos/jams in the middle of the tunes. “Thorn” regularly runs about 15 minutes, and is sometimes accompanied by the jam known as “Thorn’s Progress” which can run up to 10 minutes, while “Wiser Time” includes a keyboard solo (which was very jazzy last night) and two guitar solos in the middle. Yet, neither song is “jammy,” just extended live versions. As for “Medicated Goo,” it’s just simply one of my favorite songs by Traffic and was just a treat to hear live.
Which is something I can say about all of the songs from last night, with the exception of “Garden Gate.” Now I have no problem with the song, it’s just that it just seemed to be totally out of place for the set. Now, if they had played two sets instead of one, and opened the second set with that song, it would’ve worked, but playing an acoustic folky song in the middle of an electric rock set really kills the momentum (though they did play “She Talks to Angels” with an acoustic guitar and mandolin, and that worked fine). But thankfully, it was only one song, and the band kept the energy level high for most of the night.
When you go to a Black Crowes show, you expect to experience a great rock band playing some great rock tunes, and that’s what last night was. They were focused, playing well, and having fun, which is all you can really ask for from a band. It wasn’t the best Crowes show I’ve seen, but was it was a great one, making me want to see them again some time soon. Hopefully you’ll want to see them, too.
Setlist (from Crowesbase.com)
JEALOUS AGAIN – Shake Your Money Maker
HOTEL ILLNESS – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
MY MORNING SONG -> – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
STARE IT COLD -> – Shake Your Money Maker
MY MORNING SONG
MEDICATED GOO – Last Exit (Traffic)
OH JOSEPHINE – Warpaint
WISER TIME – Amorica
SHE TALKS TO ANGELS – Shake Your Money Maker
GARDEN GATE – Before The Frost…Until The Freeze
HIGH HEAD BLUES – Amorica
SOUL SINGING – Lions
SEEING THINGS – Shake Your Money Maker
THORN IN MY PRIDE – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
REMEDY – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
HARD TO HANDLE -> – Shake Your Money Maker
HUSH -> – Shades of Deep Purple (Deep Purple)
HARD TO HANDLE
– encore –
APPALOOSA – Before The Frost…Until the Freeze
OH SWEET NUTHIN’ – Loaded (The Velvet Underground)
WILLIN’ – Sailin’ Shoes (Little Feat)