The Black Crowes | 12.01 & 12.02 | S.F

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

The Black Crowes :: 12.01.09 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

The Black Crowes :: 12.02 :: The Fillmore
Just before the encore commenced on Tuesday, a tipsy blond tough girl grabbed my arm and boozily hissed in my face, "Can you believe this is a Tuesday night?" Her wonderfully matted hair and flush face, strawberry red from hard dancing and hard liquor, showed that at least for her the weekend had come early. Then the lights fell as The Black Crowes retook the stage, and she gave a little glam rock kick and hooted, "Fuckin-a-a-a-a!" before disappearing with an ass wiggle and a wink that came off more crazy than flirty.

The Crowes bring out this wild, immediate exuberance in folks, and the group is rarely more relaxed and engaged than when they swing it at The Fillmore, which has become a real clubhouse for them in the past few years. 2009 marks their third long stand at the venue, following a five-night run in August 2005 and six nights in December last year. One really feels the timelessness of The Black Crowes' music inside The Fillmore, where they would have fit in fine on a bill with Big Brother and the Holding Company and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1968 but slot in just fine with today's headliners like My Morning Jacket, Son Volt and The Tragically Hip.

However, unlike many others to hit this stage in recent years, the Crowes hum with all the ancient tributaries that have fed the best bands to ever play The Fillmore, tapping into the ground water of the blues, soul, country and rock to create a noise that vibrates on a heavier, deeper frequency than most. In its very nature, Black Crowes Music is all about the richness of commingled good ideas wrapped up in songwriting and playing that could simply be no one else. Put that together with The Fillmore's own strange frequencies and you've got something swell.

Chris Robinson :: 12.02
Tuesday began rough 'n' funky with well paired openers "Make Glad" from 2009's Before The Frost... After The Freeze (JamBase review) and the P-Funk-ish "(Only) Halfway To Everywhere," which was stretched into a smooth 'n' sour jam full of psychedelic prowess and a strangely unifying chant of, "Everything is everything and nowhere is nothing." A patiently built, highly salacious reading of "Greasy Grass River," a real showpiece for guitarist Luther Dickinson (who once again showed himself to be game and able on whatever came up – rare, well known or otherwise), was next, followed by a fairly rearranged "Could I've Been So Blind," which took the tempo down a couple notches from the studio version and added a thumping, nasty 12-bar blues interlude full of harmonica that really turned the original on its ear.

From this point forward the show had the flow of a really great album, where the power numbers were balanced with moments of real beauty, which the Crowes have shown increasing facility at generating in the past year or so. And just when things teetered on verge of being too subdued they swept into something livelier, as if sensing the room's mood and responding in real time. Thus, the tear-in-your-beer double whammy of "Fork In The River" joined to Dylan's "Girl From The North Country" lead into the growling discontent of "P.25 London" and the hop-out-of-the-pews propulsion of "Go Tell The Congregation." This pattern repeated nicely throughout, and as the show went on their collective confidence grew, allowing them to pull off the incongruous but perfectly executed transition from an ethereal, heart tickling cover of Fred Neil's "The Dolphins" into a lengthy, unpredictable "Black Moon Jam" and the heavy-as-a-star "Black Moon Creeping" it culminated in. It was bold choices like this that spoke loudly of the band's wide range and comfort with one another in traversing such seemingly impassable divides.

The Black Crowes :: 12.02 :: The Fillmore
After reinvigorated runs through early chestnuts "Thick 'n' Thin" and "Hard To Handle," both given nice, subtle twists by Dickinson and keyboardist Adam MacDougall, the main set hit a satisfying conclusion with Warpaint's "Wounded Bird," which has proven one of the strongest new cuts in years, a wide-winged cry to rise despite how damaged or demoralized one might be. The song's mood fit the Crowes particularly well this night, which found them a touch road weary and rough around the edges but still elegant and forceful in a very rock 'n' roll way. With a nine-person strong lineup onstage for this run, it's a huge sound that's as confident and together as they've ever been, with killer percussionist Joe Magistro - who played on Before The Flood... and has been joining them on select dates this past year - adding quiet, perfect touches that never overwhelmed yet always elevated the music. All this instrumental and vocal force coalesced on "Wounded Bird," whose lyric, "The waiting is over/ So let's roll in the clover/ It's time for a head full of stars," resonated strongly with many in the crowd who've been waiting impatiently for another extended stay at The Fillmore.

The encore might not have been what whiskey chick had hoped for, turning down the volume and really sinking into a wistful, lovely piano sprinkled "There's Gold In Them Hills," followed by shuffling, cozy covers of Dylan's "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn" – with Rich Robinson on lead vocals – and traditional by way of Ry Cooder "Boomer's Story" that brought the really cool ride to a swaying stop.

The Black Crowes :: 12.01.09 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Make Glad, (Only) Halfway To Everywhere, Greasy Grass River, Could I've Been So Blind > Jam, Fork In The River > Girl From The North Country, P.25 London, Go Tell The Congregation, Take Off From The Future > Jam > Thorn In My Pride, The Dolphins > Black Moon Jam > Black Moon Creeping, Thick N' Thin, Hard To Handle, Wounded Bird
E: There's Gold In Them Hills, Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), Boomer's Story

Continue reading for the review of Wednesday night's show...


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