Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller
The Black Crowes :: 12.14.10-12.15.10 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
A band's officially announced hiatus is frequently the death knell for the music. When a group is ready to pull up stakes and head out into parts unknown, fans can almost be assured that what they'll receive in the final days will be watered down, dispirited and most likely a shameless money grab. However, The Black Crowes proved a BIG exception at The Fillmore during their final gigs for the foreseeable future, showing off all their plumage and struttin' with power, purpose and even a little pomp.
|Chris Robinson by Josh Miller|
Each night was split into two sets, the first semi-acoustic and the second fully plugged in. This allowed a looser, chummier ease into each night – a high class hootenanny, if you will – that boiled one slower but perhaps even more surely than the Crowes usually do. With a few folks seated with acoustic instruments, the guys seemed relaxed but focused, comfortable and confident after a grueling fall/winter tour, which made their handling of just about every tune something to remember. I'll let others debate "best ever" or the like and simply say that the circumstances pulled something special out of every musician onstage. Like the audience, they were aware that these performances would be the last of their kind for a good long time, and this sweetened (or perhaps bittersweetened) the proceedings.
Each song carried a glow of significance, an acknowledgement of the craftsmanship and many performances that preceded it. The rapturous crowd, largely hardcore Amoricans, sang along to even obscure numbers and drank it all in with naked affection and gratitude the likes of which any band would be humbled by. Chris Robinson, in perhaps his best voice in 10 years, seemed particularly touched by the love flooding from the floor and drove his mates to continually go a little deeper, play a touch harder, to deliver wherever and whenever they could. The Crowes have such a fun, illuminating catalog and they were eager to poke around in a bunch of it, though there was more setlist repetition this run than in the past. But, the repeats, though similar in structure, hit in different ways, like the "Ballad In Urgency > Wiser Time" that arrived in the acoustic set on Tuesday and the electric on Wednesday and the shift in context and tone made the bones of the song glow and prompted lyrical soloing from everyone both nights. The band seems more comfortable trotting out their signature numbers and even the early singles these days, understanding that "giving the people what they want" isn't a sin, especially if the songs are as defining and great as "She Talks To Angels" and "Jealous Again."
The electric set on Wednesday night is worth a special mention. The song selection and basic attitude on display was quintessentially Crowes, a rock roar that only they make and myriad others have chased in their 20 year run. Beginning with sweet 'n' sour fan favorite "Cursed Diamond," the band sunk deep into a heavy, propulsive groove, flexing their muscles with care and keeping a tight grip on explosive nuggets like "P.25 London" and "Paint An 8." The Rich Robinson led cover of the Velvets' "Oh Sweet Nuthin'" was nothing less than sublime. If folks are wondering which official download from these Fillmore shows to pick up, I'd highly recommend this night, which served up as fine a encapsulation of what the band sounds like in 2010 as any I've ever heard.
|The Black Crowes by Josh Miller|
Each night, like the rest of the run, ended with a themed encore. On Tuesday, it was a trio of Beatles covers ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Yer Blues"
and "I Wanna Be Your Man," the last with drummer Steve Gorman singing lead!), and Wednesday it was a triple play of quality blues ("Mellow Down Easy," "Shake Your Moneymaker" and "Mean Town Blues"). Never shy about tipping their hats to influences, this nightly dynamic offered further insight into their favorites and proved a fine exclamation point to send the audience into the night on.
While the ultimate fate of The Black Crowes remains in limbo, based on the evidence of these shows, the music is hitting on all cylinders. The musical chemistry in this lineup is arguably the strongest it's ever been in the band's 20-year history. The possibilities seem barely scratched for what this bunch might do in the studio together, but Warpaint and Before The Frost…Until The Freeze offered ample evidence that what this group of players shares goes beyond the stage. The flexibility and gusto they brought to these Fillmore shows also indicates an affection for making this singular music together that is strikingly different to the band's previous hiatus in 2001. While this chapter is closed, this story seems far from over, and these shows only make the wait for a new beginning that much more tantalizing.
Acoustic Set: Cold Boy Smile, Whoa Mule, Ballad In Urgency > Wiser Time, The Dolphins, Darling Of The Underground Press, Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, Smile, Time Will Tell, Wee Who See The Deep
Electric Set: Movin' On Down The Line, Could I've Been So Blind, Song Of Love, Lady Of Avenue A, By Your Side, Hard To Handle, A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound, Sting Me, Wounded Bird
Encore: You've Got Hide Your Love Away, Yer Blues, I Wanna Be Your Man (1st time played)
Acoustic Set: Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz, Roll Um Easy, Jealous Again, Welcome To The Goodtimes, Oh Sister, Little Lizzie Mae, You Don't Miss Your Water, Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution, Miracle To Me, Soul Singing
Electric Set: Cursed Diamond, Paint An 8, P.25 London, Oh Sweet Nuthin', Thorn In My Pride, Greenhorn, She Gave Good Sunflower, Ballad In Urgency >Wiser Time
Encore: Mellow Down Easy, Shake Your Moneymaker, Mean Town Blues
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