Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller
The Black Crowes :: 04.25.08 :: Harrah's South Shore Room :: Lake Tahoe, NV
It was during the tail end of "Cursed Diamond" that The Black Crowes switched on. Scanning the stage, you found drummer Steve Gorman, eyes closed, head down, raising the pulse rate with steely determination, Sven Pipien rocking his bass like a beloved child at a playground, grinning softly, and to his left Adam MacDougal hammered his keys, eyes shut tight as sweat flew onto his piano. In no small way, the core of the Crowes' appeal is their ability to deliver songs that set one free – free from daily worries, free from the past or just free to shake what mama gave ya. They are talented pros that can get up there and rarely hit a bum note or stumble perceptively, but what keeps the faithful, well, faithful is how they often seem struck by the magic of their songs in much the same way as their fans. Five cuts in, they stumbled across the interior sorcery inside "Cursed Diamond," causing a few of us to raise a churchlike hand towards them. It would not be the last time they inspired this tiny reach for grace in a night that blossomed into a quietly potent salute to being alive and surviving the many miles behind us, slightly worse for wear but infinitesimally wiser.
|The Robinson Boys :: 04.25 :: Tahoe|
Hold me baby
Hold me girl
And I will laugh with you
If you want me to
Roll me in your splendor
I'll envy your surrender
And show you victory
Walking in, one couldn't be sure what was on tap given the casino setting and crazy early 7:30 p.m. start time. It didn't take long to figure out they had no intention of "Hard To Handling" the mixed crowd of portly seniors, dreadlock jammers, loud shirted out-of-towners with big diamond rings, pretty young things and aging classic rock traditionalists. "Remedy," "Jealous Again" and any of the other FM staples never made an appearance. The Crowes have reached a place where they're gonna play what they wanna play, wherever they might find themselves.
The result, at least at this show, was a strong level of enthusiasm for the task at hand. With guitarist Luther Dickinson and MacDougal still fully settling into their massive catalog, the others seem to be enjoying just seeing what stamp the new boys will put on things. While there's been mumbling (read: endless bitching) on the Crowes message boards about some of these changes, notably the piano solo on "Wiser Time," the sharp degree of difference in MacDougal and Dickinson's approaches to many pieces is invigorating, at least to open minded listeners and clearly the band itself. Both guys never resort to old tricks or preexisting licks because it's all pretty damn new to them. On "Downtown Money Waster," Dickinson's slide attack alternated between pleasant meanness and bayou skip, and MacDougal banged his piano like a man who'd taken a few rotgut shots AND a blow or two to the head. Together, they gave the song a rollicking, off-kilter sway that worked, just not in the same way it has in the past.
|Luther Dickinson :: 04.25 :: Tahoe|
Outside of a little rust on their locomotion, there was nothing wrong with the first few tunes but the base chemicals didn't fully intermingle until "Cursed Diamond," but once they were foaming nicely the light behind their eyes twinkled visibly, Chris Robinson standing in the middle of the instrumental fulmination, smiling and drinking it in. It's no crime to be turned on by your own band. Shit, I hope every musician is. If it don't float your boat you can hardly expect anyone else to rise with you. So, then, as the kids say, it was on. For pure rock 'n' roll, it's hard to imagine it getting better than The Black Crowes when they fully inhabit this shared being they create together. The shell of their compositions is strong but when they pump in muscle and motion in the way they did in Lake Tahoe the world dances a little harder, a little longer, a little looser.
In my 80+ Crowes shows I find there's always one person I gravitate towards more than the others. For reasons hard to pin down, they are engaged in a way that unlocks the music for me and helps me be fully present. It's never premeditated and usually the connection happens fast. This time, during "Sting Me," it was Rich Robinson, in strong voice and playing guitar with incendiary invention, that became my North Star. It's impossible for us in the stalls to guess at why one night a musician seems more connected to their work than others but the determination and downright joy Rich brought to bear here was bloody intoxicating. The cry and passion of his solos on "Thorn In My Pride" and "Nonfiction" stirred emotions and reaffirmed his love for their music in a way one felt in their bones.
The whole band seemed to be having fun. There was a lot of eye contact and smiles, but also a fair share of tight-lipped concentration. So good is everyone up there right now that one senses no one wants to be the guy who drops the ball. As they curve into a spacious jam or land hard into a final chorus, there's the patter of metaphorical feet pounding to keep in the pack, the kind of breathless rush one associates with The Beatles sprinting London streets in A Hard Day's Night. This is not the tightest lineup the Crowes have ever had, not yet, but there's a great deal of pleasure in their loose march towards total synchronicity.
|The Black Crowes :: 04.25 :: Tahoe|
Before "God's Got It," Chris said, "When you get that good feeling there's only one place you can go – the man with the big, round bass drum." With that, Gorman moved up front, marching band drum slung over his shoulders, and took us all the way into the chapel. Anyone teetering at the doorway was either all in at this point or making for the parking lot. The perfect mix of sincerity and snark, "God's Got It" is a cynic's hymn that can also work for believers. Inside a casino, singing about the Lord's bounty, the almighty dollar included, was a funny juxtaposition that was easily smoothed over with whiskey and beer. Sin and salvation are both pretty tasty.
The night began with the benediction of "Movin' On Down The Line" ("It's alright, sisters/ It's alright, brothers") and concluded with a prayer (an aching, beautiful reading of Dylan's "Forever Young"). Just on the basis of the music – the growing maturity of Warpaint tracks like "Wounded Bird" and "Oh, Josephine," their growing connection as players and the endless reach inside their catalog and those of others – it was a really satisfying couple of hours. Still, people moaned.
Without any of the big hits or readily identifiable covers, a percentage of the crowd seemed miffed when the lights came up. A woman behind me bellowed, "Ah come on, no 'Hard To Handle'? What gives?" Folks can desire the Crowes to be whatever they want but this is who they are. They are making the music they want to make with the people they want to make it with, period. Dig it, don't dig it, whatever, but there's a lot here to love if you open yourself up to the changes. If audiences give their music half as much attention and care as they're putting into it right now then it's hard to imagine them being disappointed. Then again, I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic after this show.
Now don't look back, my wounded bird
There's nothing for you here
Need no wings
Just set your mind to fly
04.25.08 :: Harrah's South Shore Room :: Lake Tahoe, NV
Movin' On Down The Line, Sting Me, Under A Mountain, Evergreen, Cursed Diamond, Poor Elijah/Tribute To Johnson (Medley), Oh, Josephine, Downtown Money Waster, Thorn In My Pride, God's Got It, Heavy, Nonfiction, Wiser Time, Wounded Bird
Encore: Don't Do It, Forever Young
JamBase | Amorica
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