Concert Review: The Black Crowes in Boston, MA 10/17/08

Concert Review:
The Black Crowes
The Opera House
Boston, MA

Drama and Black Crowes fandom usually goes hand in hand and the start of Fall ‘08 tour has proven to be no exception. Some pressing questions: Was Chris’s voice shot? Could Luther play the back catalog material? Would Adam butcher the Wiser Time solo?

Find out the answer to all these questions and more in the next thrilling installment of Days of our Crowes!

The Pre-Game

Not wanting to smell like a dirty cantina for the rest of the evening, we abandoned tradition (Fajitas & Ritas) and upgraded to Silvertone Bar & Grill for the official pre-game festivities. It was an inspired choice and a good omen for the rest of the night. Silvertone’s is a great bar with a nice menu full of comfort foods – like the mac & cheese that I tastefully paired with a few well-deserved Harpoon IPAs.

The Opera House

Speaking of upgrades, for the first time ever the Crowes played the recently restored Boston Opera House. It’s a gorgeous building with excellent sound and a very relaxed vibe. At first I was surprised that they’d even let hippies into such a classy joint, but I think the venue brought out the best in the Amoricans, as the sold-out crowd was bursting with positive, well-groomed energy.

The Band

Looking relaxed, happy and slightly less bearded, the Crowes are still an 8-piece line-up consisting of: Chris Robinson (vocal, harp, guitar), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals), Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals), Luther Dickinson (guitar, mandolin), Adam MacDougall (keys), Charity White & Mona Lisa Young (vocals). Congratulations to the Crowes for almost going a whole year without a line-up change!

The Lights

Normally I’d never comment on the lighting at a rock concert but on Saturday night it was exceptional and all of the credit goes to Chris Kuroda. It’s a shame that he’ll be rejoining Phish next year, but I guess those tweakers need the fancy lights more than we do.

The Sound

As always, the Crowes were up to 11. We were directly in front of Rich about 12 rows from the stage so I was worried that the wall of sound would collapse on us, but fortunately the sound was mixed pretty evenly. It was a little muddy at full volume but otherwise clear. Earplugs were not necessary.

The Songs

Wounded Bird: Although I was hoping for a Good Friday opener, Wounded Bird was a nice start that the crowd embraced warmly. It was well played and a little higher energy than the version from last March in Somerville. A nice, if not exceptional, start to the evening.

(Only) Halfway to Everywhere: As always, Halfway was excellent and it reminded me of its debut at the Orpheum back on 2/23/99. Luther and Adam were on fire for the coda jam. Little did we know that we’d be in for three treats from 3 Snakes and One Charm over the course of the evening!

Evergreen: Dipping back into the new material, Evergreen was also energetic and rocking. It’s a somewhat standard rocker until the bridge, but once that bridge hits it feels like classic, face-melting Crowes. Chris’s vocals delivered – his voice was strong and there were no apparent lingering effects from the “laryngitis.”

Wiser Time: It’s one of the greatest road songs of all time, but unfortunately Adam still drove the solo into a ditch. He just has to forget everything that Eddie ever did. Look…I know Eddie Harsh. I’ve heard Eddie Harsh play and Adam is no Eddie Harsh. He’s a talented player but he’s trying to fill impossibly large shoes, especially on the Amorica material. Fortunately, Rich smoked his solo at the end of the song to get things back on track. You know, Riff Robinson just doesn’t get enough credit for what an amazing guitarist he truly is.

Bring On Bring On: The transition jam between Wiser and Bring On sounded new to me and it was quite good. Bring On was a real treat, well played and beautiful. At this point, 5 songs in, I realized just how high-energy, tight and solid the band has become. They were great back in March, but they were absolutely on fire at the Opera House. Any fears that the glory days are over are completely unfounded. This is an incredible band at the height of their powers.

Whoa Mule: Commencing the countrified section of the program, Steve grabbed a bongo, Chris grabbed a harp and the harmonies flowed. The crowd responded really well to Whoa Mule, as well they should have.

Poor Elijah/Tribute to Johnson: Okay. Now I can die. This may be the greatest song ever played in the history of music. The original Delaney & Bonnie version is good, but the Crowes version is just…beyond (just like Obama’s brisket!) I couldn’t love this song any more if I tried. Luther’s solo during Poor Elijah was sublime and Rich’s solo during Tribute to Johnson was amazing. I’m still smiling about catching this tune in person.

Locust Street: Locust Street is a beautiful song that I enjoy immensely. Luther’s mandolin playing is spot on, but it was also the perfect opportunity for a trip to the bathroom.

Quinn the Eskimo: After the bathroom we actually skipped the beer line upon hearing the opening notes of Quinn (now THAT’S high praise!) It’s such a fun song, the Crowes play it so well and Rich sings like a real grown-up boy now! Go Rich!

How Much for your Wings: Rich kept right on singing as HMFYW started (although we all know that it’s Chris’s backing vocals that drive the first half of the song). But it was the jam at the end that took it to another level: heavy, trippy, layered, textured and just incredible.

Downtown Money Waster: It’s funny how such a slight song can become so much more when played live. They crushed DTMW. Dirty road house blues and the upscale Opera House somehow fit together perfectly.

Thorn in my Pride: It wouldn’t be a show without a Thorn. (Go to a show with me and I guarantee that you’ll get a Thorn.) And it wouldn’t be a Thorn without Steve’s drum solo. But if there’s any drummer than can pull off the cheesy drum solo, it’s Mr. Gorman and his heavy sticks. The post-drum solo harp blues jam was tight and impressive. Ah, Thorn, just when I think that I’m sick of you, you pull me back in…

Hard to Handle: A radio hit! An actual hit! As you’ve probably noticed by now this was a great set list for the hardcore Crowes fan but not so great for the casual fan looking for radio hits. A snappy version of H2H corrected that. Even after all of these years the power of that song is still evident.

Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution: From the oldest hit to the newest (relatively speaking) GDOTR is somewhat formulaic but it really captures the signature Crowes sound. It’s definitely growing on me over time and I actually enjoyed hearing it again. This version was speed up (the spirit of Audley returns!) and that made it even better.

E: The Shape I’m In: What other group would have the balls or the skill to bust out this Band classic? What other band could play it so well? Adam sounded great on this one. Hell, everyone sounded great on this one. It was a treat. It was perfect. It was over far too soon – bring back the two-setters!

(On a side note, my personal post-hiatus encore roster now includes: “The Shape I’m In”, “Don’t Know Why”, “Hey Grandma” , “Willin’”, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” & “Hot Burrito #2” No complaints here!)

The Summary

I know that I have little credibility when it comes to objectively reviewing the Crowes, but they really are incredible. They are simply operating on another level. I’m happy to report that the new guys are fitting in just fine, the band sounds tight and they look happy. The new material blends into the set list effortlessly and keeps their sound fresh and contemporary. They’re jamming out hard while never crossing the threshold into the dreaded ‘noodling’ zone. I don’t think that I could love a band more than I love the Crowes right now. There is literally no other band in the world that has the chops, the musical sensibilities, the energy or the stage presence that the Crowes possess. The new songs, the catalog songs, the covers – it all blends together into a transcendent experience. Go see them if you can, you won’t be disappointed.


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