The Black Crowes | 12.04 - 12.06 | S.F.

Chris Robinson :: 12.06 By Miller
Sunday was one of the most poetic, moving nights of music I've ever experienced by any band, but all the more poignant coming from a group that's soundtracked the lives of myself and not a few others in attendance for nearly two decades. Two years and two albums on with this lineup - Chris Robinson (lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals), Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals), Adam MacDougall (keys, vocals), and Charity White and Monalisa Young (background vocals) – they're capable of delivering on any part of their catalogue and seem increasingly skilled at juxtaposing the right things in a single night. It's not a hits-package or anything like it, and in this way it's a steeper slope for audiences with less obvious handholds than most bands this far into their career. It's an artistically minded decision that also keeps the experience of getting on stages alive and immediate for the band. You can't coast when it's a different game every night, and this Fillmore run was especially challenging, with not a single repeat in five nights. And even still they didn't get to a bunch of great songs; there is just too much to work with these days.

The music was flowing loose and steady in their veins as they opened with a suitably bittersweet skip through Traffic's "Feelin' Alright," with the songbirds putting a sharp edge on Chris' lead line. The soft contours of "Seeing Things," moaned with wounded intensity with every note matching Chris' powerful vocal. This was the first of many quieter numbers they explored on Sunday. They excel when the lights are low and the feelings usually kept silently inside are explored in verse and melody, and their prowess in this regard was on full display Sunday. It's a brave group that moves from one ballad to another, but they did so and made it work by the sheer quality of the compositions and their execution. From a delicate reading of "Ballad In Urgency" to the cheek-to-cheek tenderness of "Greenhorn," the Crowes played in a fully exposed way, the songs thriving because of the honesty of all involved. Twice I felt a tear come to my eye, stirred to the surface by their direct engagement with things too often shunted into the shadows, hopes and fears and disappointments too true to speak aloud most days, yet sung shoulder-to-shoulder with the third sold out crowd in a row, well, it was a release and a benediction of the first order.

Luther Dickinson :: 12.06 :: By Miller
One was struck by the quality of their lyrics, both the originals and spot-on covers, this night. While the world says less and less of substance all the time, as a general rule, here was a band basically obsessed with depth and real feeling. Standing stock still as Chris oozed emotion on "Ballad," I sang along with the black invitation, "Let's start this misery, if that's where you want to be," and recalled the many bad pathways I've set out upon in my life. Earlier it was Rich on "What Is Home" that got me thinking about the "charge into the foothills" of other's lives and how easy it is to get lost there. It was an intensely thoughtful selection on Sunday, which frequently sent me off on philosophical tangents, though never so my focus wasn't mostly fixed on the music unfolding around me. I love that they challenge their audience to feel and think, to grapple with things we might not choose to face on our own. This inward movement usually happens quickly, not unlike the verse from the fabulously rendered "Appaloosa" that noted, "Simple as lightning starting wild fire/ Just down from a trip off my high wire/ Just coming home to walk my own floors."

"And The Band Played On" was as appealing as on Before The Frost... but taken into a pulsating, Pink Floyd-like jam that left me slack-jawed, softly stunned by the hum of distant machines and a feel that was total "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" shit. Really stunning, and a sign that even with over a hundred shows under my belt that they keep coming up with pleasant surprises, taking their audience to new places and traveling there by unfamiliar trails. The possibilities only seem to be expanding with this band, and that's not something one usually finds in a 20-year-old group. Chris is stretching out on electric guitar more, taking a juicy solo here and there and helping steer this great guitar driven entity from time to time, and Luther is playing tasty electric mandolin on some newer tunes. The whole bunch of them seemed frequently surprised at what they pulled off this run and anxious to keep exploring their boundaries and potential permutations.

Lesh & Chris Robinson :: 12.06 By Blakesberg
The main show would have been the perfect period on this Fillmore run, which indeed proved to be their best ever at this venue, however, being in the Bay Area, bassist/elder statesman Phil Lesh joined them for a Grateful Dead focused mini-set for the encore. While this might have been a letdown for those hoping for just a few more Crowes gems, it proved surprisingly intense and musically switched-on. Phil clearly loves playing with these guys, and more so than in past Phil sit-ins, the band hit Lesh's wavelength quickly but also put their own stamp on the material.

"Loose Lucy" had everyone thanking them for a "real good time," and initially sounded like they might play T-Rex's "Bang A Gong." They milked the call-and-response with the Dead savvy crowd, and it worked like it always did in Jerry's day. But, the real stunner of the set was next AND it wasn't sung by Chris. "To Lay Me Down" is profound ache pushed into notes, and Rich sung the ever-loving heart out of it, hitting just the right emotional tone and evoking shiver inducing memories of Garcia several times. The patience and care the band executed this one with was impressive and it showed that their own approach to quiet material has its forebears, though few of them.

The throttle opened up again with "Sugaree" side-stepping the overused cover's omnipresence with sweet ass solos from MacDougall, Dickinson, and particularly Rich, whose slide work throughout Saturday and Sunday was a grand swing between guttural snarl and angelic hosanna, but always touched by lingering vocal qualities. In short, the boy sings when he plays slide, and I caught more than a few people looking towards Luther's side of the stage and then doing a double take when they found Dickinson doing the rhythm part instead of the slide work that was knocking them out. "Deal" was its usual shuffling joy, and Chris turned it on brightly for "Lovelight," pulling the rest of the people onstage right along with him into the promised land.

While a touch odd to have the final expression of this five-night stand be the music of another band, it worked, if only to announce that the aesthetics and philosophy inside Grateful Dead music has been carried on and morphed into something new with the Crowes. And it showed that this band can play the hell out of just about anybody's songs if they put their mind to it.

By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg
By Jay Blakesberg

The Black Crowes :: 12.06.09 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Feelin' Alright, Seeing Things, Stare It Cold, Space Captain, So Many Times, What Is Home, Appaloosa, Ballad In Urgency > Wiser Time, Oh Josephine, And The Band Played On > Jam, Greenhorn, Soul Singing
E: Loose Lucy (1st time played)*, To Lay Me Down (1st time played)*, Sugaree*, Deal*, Turn On Your Lovelight (1st time played)*
* = w/ Phil Lesh

Continue reading for more of Josh Miller's pictures from Friday and Sunday...

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