Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand
The Black Crowes :: 12.15.08 – 12.16.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
In as much as we do not fully consciously choose those we love, the music dearest to us also slips into our lives through a mixture of cognizant will and other less tangible yet equally important reasons. How we soundtrack our high times and low tides is a deeply personal thing. Why our favorites, our safeties, our rocks-to-pat-a-foot-on, resonate with us isn't something we can always explain to others. Like our lovers and partners in crime, there's something about certain music that simply makes us feel better about being alive, that buffers the awful reality outside our windows and makes us ever so slightly nicer towards strangers, pets and our parents. We can probably tell others a bit about why we love the music we do but there's mysterious elements that defy explication. It's this unexplainable stuff that puts butterflies in our tummies and makes us pace outside venues hours earlier than we need to arrive. Within these dear intangibles lies the spark of Christmas, the candles of birthdays and the wish dappled arc of shooting stars.
Still, it never hurts to have one's affections reaffirmed, and The Black Crowes began a five-night run of shows at The Fillmore with a big, wet kiss on the lips that left the faithful grinning and slightly dazed. It has been a long, busy year for the nearly 20-year-old group that kicked off in March with the release of Warpaint - universally regarded as their best work in years – by a fresh lineup palpably solidified by guitarist Luther Dickinson, on extended furlough from North Mississippi Allstars, and keyboardist Adam MacDougall. The question on many minds going into these shows was "How are they doing after nine months of steady road work and days upon days together inside a rolling dorm?" The answer offered with resounding confidence, artful friskiness and plenty of belly fire in the first two nights in S.F. was, "We're doing just fine. How's about you, Amorica?"
One of the possible meanings of the word "church" is a "body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority." It's not much of a stretch to include a band and their fans under this umbrella. And while I've used such high steeple thinking many times with the Crowes, if the mitre fits then so be it. Inside the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, safe from the biting winter chill outside, it didn't take long before the band had us feeling flush, a light fever produced by the out-of-the-gate heat of their performance. One of the great things about opener "Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution" is how it invites us to join them with both a command and a question, beckoning, "Hallelujah, come join the jubilee," and then "Don't you want to see the ship go down with me?"
|Luther Dickinson - The Black Crowes |
12.16 :: S.F.
Offering elation and devastation in the same breath comes natural to the Crowes, who thrive in contradictions. Throughout the night they soldered together sculpted gorgeousness and loose-limbed psychedelia, aching balladry and hard dirt blues. Leaping from the eviscerating, straight razor attack of "Forty Four Blues" (growled with testicular fortitude by Rich Robinson) to the exposed tenderness of "Locust Street" AND making each seem as natural as breathing, well, is beyond the reach of most acts. The band's unwillingness to limit their scope, to set artificial limits, means a huge spectrum of possibilities exists at every show, and with vastly diminished drama within their ranks compared to years past this felt like a true band committed to a shared purpose and anxious to kick the tires on material both familiar ("She Talks To Angels," given a winning electric blue slide by Dickinson) and rarely visited (Taj Mahal fave "Chevrolet" played with the dangerous swing of card sharps before tumbling into a jazzy jam reminiscent of Traffic circa 1972). They also nailed down "(Only) Halfway To Everywhere," a cut that's had varied success live, right down to the call-and-response coda.
Nothing seems off limits as 2008 comes to a close, and the set swung naturally but broadly through obscure red meat like "Paint An 8" and "Waiting Guilty" and newer staples like "Wounded Bird" and "Movin' On Down The Line." What differentiates this lineup to past ones is how each era and tune is treated with equal enthusiasm. No one seems pissy about playing something from a record they weren't involved in or where there's no individual spotlight for their part. In fact, I was struck by the collective humility and gentlemanly demeanor onstage; let's be straight, there's a LOT of ego (much of it backed up by enormous talent) going on here. That intrinsic cockiness is an essential ingredient to their sound – the meek do not strut and The Black Crowes work it like 20 pounds of ass in 10-pound Daisy Dukes. Still, they appear to have found a middle ground between solid confidence and pleasant deference, perhaps heard most clearly in the hot potato passing between Rich and Luther, a seamless, engaging pairing akin, in feel if not tone, to Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. There were plenty of jaw dropping solos, especially from Dickinson, but their conversation, their ever-lively interplay goes to the heart of this current lineup – the Crowes of December 2008 listen to one another better than at any time in their past.
12.15.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution, Jam > Black Moon Creeping, Greasy Grass River, Chevrolet > Jam, Paint An 8, Walk Believer Walk, Forty Four Blues > Jam,
Locust Street, How Much For Your Wings > Jam, Waiting Guilty, She Gave Good Sunflower, Movin' On Down The Line, By Your Side, (Only) Halfway To Everywhere,
Encore: She Talks To Angels, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The second installment was more song-focused, less wild hair exploration, save for a glorious ramble that began with freak friendly "Wee Who See The Deep" and eventually bobbed incongruously to the surface in "Thorn In My Pride," leaving one woozily off-kilter but nicely manhandled. Each bent – song vs. jam - had its charms and felt organic, which explains how one can see the same band for nearly a week straight and come away each night having experienced something unique. To wit, "Wounded Bird," which closed the main set on Monday and leapt up as the opener on Tuesday. While the basic melody, etc. remained the same, the energy level, small keyboard nuances and especially Chris Robinson's vocal attack varied a good deal. They've learned to accentuate the differences placement in a setlist offers different pieces.
|The Black Crowes :: 12.16 :: S.F.|
Settled in now, Chris lets his roar loose on "Gone" and numerous times afterwards. He's made a few adjustments for age and time served, dropping a few songs down to a more comfortable range, stepping back the pace slightly on some burners, but night's like this remind one that he's one of the greats of his generation and a rare modern belter who can go toe-to-toe with legends like Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant. And he wasn't given an inch by the rest of the band, particularly Adam MacDougall, who has really seeped into the musculature of this music, shunning extended solos for something more pervasive, something felt as much as consciously noticed – one of their intangibles today to be sure.
Both MacDougall and Dickinson are such classy players, always supporting other efforts on stage, needling their compatriots in the best way, offering curlicues that elevate regular script to downright calligraphy. There's so many opportunities for them to overplay in this material, so many showboat platforms, and while I'm speculating, I think their tact has subtly influenced everyone in the Crowes. They are interested in being Black Crowes not "Luther Dickinson" or "Adam MacDougall" of The Black Crowes, and it was that collective spirit that powered Tuesday night, where cuts like "P.25 London" and "Remedy" rose with inferno intensity, evolved in a very full way and then stopped on a dime. More so than most acts, the Crowes benefit from some collapse of personal ego, and the feeling of togetherness pouring from the amps hit one like a wind.
"That's rock 'n' roll music right there. It's the latest rage," laughed Chris, then adding after his chuckle fell flat with a good chunk of the crowd, "I thought that was funny." Small, seemingly inconsequential moments like this exemplify something important about the band now – they pay attention to their surroundings a bit more these days. There's a sensitivity that only comes with time, trial and error, and the boon for Crowes listeners is a band that's increasingly empathetic yet still fiercely fearless in their approach to their music. At no point either night did one feel they were playing to any sensibilities other than their own. They offered up the best of what they have in them, and if one was so inclined they could pick up their gifts.
12.16.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Wounded Bird, Gone, Twice As Hard, Thick N' Thin, P.25 London, Evergreen, Dirty Hair Halo, Sister Luck, Whoa Mule, Losing My Mind, Wheels, Wee Who See The Deep > Take Off From The Future > Spider In The Sugar Bowl Blues Tease > Thorn In My Pride, Oh Josephine, Remedy
Encore: Shake Your Money Maker, Sometimes Salvation, Let's Go Get Stoned
We look at the rest of the five-night stand next Tuesday. Please amble on back to join us for the rest of the story...
Continue reading for more pics of The Black Crowes in San Francisco...
Images by: Susan J. Weiand
JamBase | Amorica The Beautiful
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