The Black Crowes
August 27, 2009
Bank of America Pavilion
The big fear amongst long-time Crowes fans has been that after 20 years the band had lost their edge. That they were no longer capable of writing the well-crafted songs or performing the type of ferocious rockers that made them “the most rock and roll band in the world.”
We were wrong.
On a beautiful Thursday night on the waterfront in Boston, The Black Crowes delivered a near-flawless performance that demonstrated a perfect harmony between the past and the present, between rock and country and between the divergent influences of the brothers Robinson.
The first song of the night, ‘Good Morning Captain’ was a great example of the feel of the Crowes’ new material. Complex and layered, it’s halfway between Southern Harmony and Warpaint, crossing over multiple genres. ‘Make Glad’ is a funky, upbeat number that gave Luther Dickinson his first opportunity to shine. At this juncture it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Luther to this band. His playing is excellent and the slight shrillness that was in his guitar tone when he first joined the band is completely gone. The always-welcome ‘Let Me Share the Ride’ came next to keep the momentum going. The song ended with a very long and tasteful harp solo from Chris, although the expected ‘Mellow Down Easy’ never came.
Things did get mellow, however, when they launched into the gorgeous ‘Houston Don’t Dream About Me’ which was just amazing. ‘Whoa Mule’ kept the organic vibe going strong. Another new tune, ‘Shine Along’, featured Luther on electric mandolin and has huge sing-along potential down the road. The laid-back portion of the evening came to an end with ‘Appaloosa’, which may turn out to be one of the strongest ballads in the Crowes’ catalog. You could drop ‘Appaloosa’ onto any classic country-rock album from the ‘70s and it would fit in seamlessly.
The energy came roaring back with a fun ‘She Gave Good Sunflower’ and a killer ‘High Head Blues’, featuring the heavy and dense outro jam that we all known and love. Even the new single, the disco tune ‘I Ain’t Hiding’ sounded great and was a hell of a lot of fun to groove to live.
Next up was Rich’s ballad, ‘What is Home’, which joins the ranks of “songs like ‘Locust Street’ that I really enjoy but don’t need to hear live but make for a well-timed piss break if they play it anyway.”
A song that I always love hearing live, ‘Movin’ on Down the Line’ came next and it was great as always, although I’d like to hear them speed it up a touch. I think it could be even more powerful if it was a little more aggressive. ‘A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound’ is another great new song that goes in a lot of interesting directions and features a particularly compelling bridge. The peak of the evening came with a powerful, spot-on performance of the classic ‘Sometimes Salvation’ with both Luther and Chris absolutely nailing their respective parts. Instead of struggling to sing ‘Salvation’ Chris found a delivery that was intense, passionate and powerful without exceeding his current vocal range. Hearing such a great version of ‘Salvation’ within the context of all of the new material was revelatory. In many ways, the new Crowes are still very much the old Crowes. A solid ‘Twice as Hard’ followed and the set closed with another new rocker, ‘Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love)’. My reaction to this tune was simply “holy shit!” As the jam progressed and as Chris’s harp solo transitioned into Luther’s guitar solo, everything suddenly became clear: this isn’t an abrupt new direction for the Crowes, it’s a broader direction for them. The new material captures all of their influences. For once I felt like the brothers have found a way to bring themselves together. These aren’t Chris OR Rich songs – these are Chris AND Rich songs.
The show ended with the crowd pleasing encore of ‘She Talks to Angels’ and the only cover of the night, Elmore James’s ‘Shake your Money Maker’ which featured some really great roadhouse piano work from Adam. That’s right – I’m even praising Adam.
Sometimes it all comes together – the venue, the setlist, the friends, the performance – and this was one of those special nights. This band has given me so much joy over the last 20 years and last night was yet another highlight on this amazing trip.
In other words, they’re still “the most rock and roll band in the world.”