Aftermath: Black Crowes at House of Blues

Photos by Mark C. Austin

Sure, Lars and the boys from Metallica, Down and the Sword a couple of blocks away at Toyota Center might have been louder, but the two pairs of fratellis in the Black Crowes/Buffalo Killers show have something up on them: More BBC, or Beards Per Capita.

Facial hair was glowing and flowing, long and ragged or sculpted and trimmed on the visages of these bands, so much that you half-expected Dan Haggerty, Rasputin and Hagrid from the Harry Potter series to be setting up the amps.

Before the Crowes took the stage, the audience was treated to a promenade of support crew from the familiar (Mike Check Guy, Guitar Tuner Guy) to the specialized (Set List Taping Down Guy, Placing Water Bottles on Amplifier Guys). But only here at a Black Crowes show could there be a job for Incense Setting on Stage Guy. Guess who got the biggest applause?

For their energetic and musically-layered two-hour show, a sonic punch of straight-ahead, frill-less rock and roll, the Black Crowes leaned heavily (maybe too much so) on cuts from this year’s Warpaint. It’s their first studio album since Chris and Rich Robinson reformed the band in 2005, and also their best release in ages.

Six of the record’s eleven cuts were in the set, including a forceful, cracking opener in “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” and back-to-back tender charms of “Oh Josephine” and “Locust Street.” And while “Movin’ On Down the Line” took on a more epic feel in the show, “”Evergreen” and “Walk Believer Walk” both sounded a bit staccato and sing-songy.

Of course, the Black Crowes are a band for whom no two set lists are alike, but so many coats of Warpaint meant some other era must suffer. In this case, it was their underrated middle period, offering just one song from Amorica (frequent live favorite “Wiser Time”) and – sadly – nothing from Three Snakes and One Charm.

Come to think of it, their later period was mostly skipped over as well, with no tunes from By Your Side and only “Young Man, Old Man” from Lions, the weakest entry in the canon.

Their earlier efforts, though, came out to play with initial radio hits “Twice as Hard” and “Jealous Again” from debut Shake Your Moneymaker along with the always great “Black Moon Creeping,” “Thorn in My Pride”, and raucous main set closer “No Speak No Slave” culled from ‘92’s still-unbeatable The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

The hardcore, taper-obsessive fans (i.e. the single men mouthing every word) were rewarded with the more obscure “Paint an 8,” and the always cover-friendly Crowes threw in a couple of laid back readings of Tom Rush’s “Drivin’ Wheel” and encored with Ry Cooder’s “Boomer’s Story.” The former was also played during the band’s last stop in Houston, which greatly pleased Steve the Guitar Seller, standing next to me (Steve – hope that T-shirt fit your daughter!).

Of the band, vocalist Chris Robinson remained his constantly-in-motion wiggling/strutting self, and was in fine, strong voice. But surprisingly, he kept his chattering to a minimum, spilling out only one “Chris-ism” of the night (“You better reserve your seat early for when the spaceship comes!”).

Guitarist Rich Robinson and bassist Sven Pipien seemed their usual inscrutable selves while bent over instruments like six (or four) string scientists, and drummer Steve Gorman as usual kept a tight rein on the drums, smacking his toms like an errant child or woman who you pay for the pleasure.

The pleasant surprise came with new lead guitarist Luther Dickinson, from the on-hiatus North Mississippi All-Stars. Not only did he lay a sweet country sheen on several numbers and nail as many fiery solos, bit he erased any doubt about his ability to take over for fan favorite Marc Ford. Unfortunately, the other newest Crowe – keyboardist Adam MacDougall – was given little to do, his organ fills nothing compared to the frequency or inventiveness of what Cryptkeeper doppelganger Eddie Harsch used to bring to the show.

Overall, the show certainly pleased the fan boys, frat boys and fortysomethings who made up the audiences at the sold-out venue. One bespectacled, PTA-looking middle-aged woman visiting town from Virginia was ecstatic to revisit old friends. “I haven’t seen them since 1991,” she told me – adding that she’d been to recent shows by Gregg Allman and Phil Lesh back home. Luckily, she snagged a ticket just before showtime. And yes, it’s been a lot of years since “Hard to Handle” was on MTV – back when they actually showed music videos.

Opening the show was hirsute power trio Buffalo Killers from Cincinnati, who played an exuberant set and recalled a psychedelic Uriah Heep. Brothers Zachary Gabbard (vocals/bass), Andrew Gabbard (vocals/guitar) and Joseph Sebaali (drums) pounded out tunes (“Get Together Now Today” “Let It Ride”) from their recent sophomore record, Let It Ride – produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys – and self-titled debut (“Homegrown”). Their sound fit perfectly in Crowesworld, but what made them unique were the burly Gabbards’ unexpected high harmonies, making them the epitome of gentle giants.

Bonus: Classic Rock Bob personal rant!

I do like that a new generation is discovering the joys of classic rock, be it via their parents’ record collections or Guitar Hero. But I’m been deeply distressed about the marketing trend toward the production and sale of “distressed” band T-shirts.

You know, perfectly new outerwear, available at a Wal-Mart near you, made to look old, and meant for bodies who weren’t even alive during Led Zeppelin’s ’77 U.S. tour , much less the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 jaunt.

It seems that even the Black Crowes have succumbed to the trend, with T’s for this tour sporting the “distressed” look. First off, goddammit, if I’ve paid for the complete shirt, I don’t want missing color blocks from the transfer and fucking fake “stress lines.”

Used to be a fan earned the distressed look through multitudes of wash cycles, spilled beer, and holes burned from a flicked joint. And you could tell a real die-hard at a show from the vintage of the shirt (i.e. Wolfie Mozart, French tour 1777) and open up a whole avenue of conversation.

I hope that this trend of making new shirts look old is just a passing design phase, and will go the way of other T-shirt trends like block letters that spell your name, glitter iron-on transfers, and airbrushed unicorns. - Bob Ruggiero

Set List

Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution Jam > Black Moon Creeping Evergreen Twice as Hard Paint an 8 Oh Josephine Locust Street Drivin’ Wheel Walk Believer Walk Young Man, Old Man > Jam Movin’ On Down the Line Jam > Wiser Time Jam > Thorn in My Pride > Jam Jealous Again No Speak No Slave Boomer’s Story

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero