UPDATED (Tuesday, 9:55 a.m.) to correct the mandolin player on "She Talks to Angels."
The Black Crowes House of Blues April 26, 2013
Over the past nearly quarter-century, Chris Robinson's lyrics have shown no lack of religious imagery. Angels and devils exist side by side in the lines of his notebook, and various jubilees among congregations go off with fiery fervor. Not surprising, as their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, was named for an actual old gospel hymnal.
So it's only fitting that last night's Black Crowes concert was a bit of Sunday-night church, a faith-restorer in how a great rock and roll show can come from a band extremely comfortable in its own skin (or feathers), and who draw from their musical influences without being slavish to them, creating something that is...well...Crowesian.
If fact, the Black Crowes (the band, not the Night's Watch from Game of Thrones) have an interesting career in 2013. They drop records sporadically -- live and in studio -- when it where it suits them on their own label. They do no press interviews, haven't had anything resembling a radio hit in ages, can go on hiatus for years and them come back with a rejiggered lineup, yet still have enough of a dedicated fanbase to sell out the nearly 1,200-capacity House of Blues on a Sunday night -- with dozens turned away at the ticket counter.
It was simply one of the best pure rock and roll shows I've seen in a quite awhile, and one of the finest I've seen from the band ever.
The band clicked on all levels musically as the interplay between original members Chris (vocals) and Rich (guitar) Robinson and Steve Gorman (drummer), along with Sven Pipien (bass), Adam MacDougall (keyboards) and new guitarist Jackie Greene. The last in particular had some big Crowes feel to fill in the wake of Marc Ford and Luther Dickinson - and did so more than admirably.
But it was Chris who commanded the show and...actually had a good time! The sometimes surly frontman admonished not a single person in the crowd (much less had someone removed), and had a smile on his face somewhere between goofy grin and higher ground musical bliss the whole night.
The rail-thin, heavily haired 46-year-old also exuded amazing energy at the mike and with unique dance moves just as identifiable with him as Jagger's is to that front man ("Moves Like Chris?"). The audience certainly picked up on the positive vibes, though would have likely appreciated a bit more stage patter from the normally loquacious singer.
Interestingly, the set list was something of a Greatest Hits Tour, leaning heavily toward the first four, most commercially successful records and their best-known songs.
And while diehards might have cringed a bit -- no rarities or obscurities along the line of, say, "Paint an 8" or "Pimper's Paradise" or "Darling of the Underground Press" -- the band did tinker a'la Dylan on some of the tunes. Adding Greene's
Pipien's mandolin to "She Talks to Angels" or a hard-rock break on "Hard to Handle," for instance. And their jams -- which sometimes can go on too long -- were focused and meaty.
Other highlights included "Good Friday" a passionate "Ballad In Urgency," and acoustic spin on the originally brassy "Welcome to the Goodtimes," and an extended, forceful "Remedy."
Early in their career, the Black Crowes were often compared -- too quickly -- to similarly jammy/hirsute bands like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. These were bands with a legacy, a knack for following their own muse, whose listeners didn't need to hear their songs on the radio or seen them in magazines to love them. They only needed to hear "they're coming to town" as impetus to get a ticket.
Well, the Black Crowes have finally, fully grown into that comparison. Hallelujah. Come join the jubilee.
Personal Bias: Big, big fan who has seen the band eight times over 20 years, including the legendary 1993 gig at the Sam Houston Coliseum which was broadcast live on radio and bootlegged as "High in Houston." (Then, as now, brother Classic Rock Jamie was with me. The backstage press conference was also the first time I'd ever seen Red Stripe beer). Once considered getting the group's drunk/stoned Heckle and Jeckle early graphic as a tattoo.
The Crowd: Thirty- and fortysomethings, many with old Crowes concert shirts (though my one from the 1999 Souled Out Tour was the most vintage I saw). A surprising number of thick-necked frat boys/bros who knew lyrics and danced with abandon.
Random Notebook Dump: "Why won't anybody pass me one of the joints going around? Maybe I'm standing too close to the door."
Overheard In the Crowd: (By a highly inebriated woman -- evidently -- in a white tank top holding a beer at 7:30 p.m.). "HEY, ONLY A HALF AN HOUR TO THE SHOW! WHOOOO! HALF AN HOUR! ROCK AND ROLL!!!"
Special Classic Rock Bob Note: Thanks to the band themselves for taking heed from their number "Wiser Time." Sunday night shows can be a bitch for fans who have to work the next morning (or come home and write a review past midnight). The ticket for tonight said "8 p.m." So when the band strolled onstage at 8:13 to the shock of many, they nonetheless put on a high-energy performance just shy of two hours. No lame/drawn-out opening act, no delayed start time. Nice.
Under a Mountain Sting Me Hotel Illness Good Friday Medicated Goo (Traffic Cover) Ballad in Urgency Jam > Wiser Time She Talks to Angels Welcome to the Goodtimes Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution Thorn in My Pride Soul Singing Jealous Again Remedy Been a Long Time
Hard to Handle/Hush (Deep Purple cover)/Hard to Handle