By Dennis Cook
The Black Crowes :: 10.14 & 10.15 :: The Joint :: :Las Vegas, NV
This is rock 'n' roll. This is what it moves like and smells like – a bit ruffled, perhaps in need of a wash, knowing, nonchalantly sexy, and so right in its raggedness it curls your toes.
Las Vegas is a town custom-built for the Crowes' freaky thang. Since seeing them at The Joint in '95, it's been apparent to me that they thrive in this weird desert crucible. Over two nights, they dug deep into their catalog and offered a passel of fresh covers, many of them gambling town-themed. They were setlists built for the faithful, full of deeply cherished nuggets like Saturday's dazzling "Cursed Diamond" opener. However, what really impressed were the new twists the band has been coming up with almost nightly in a tour that's run the better part of a year.
Chris Robinson by Darren Ankenman
There's a level of interaction between members unknown in the past. In the last eight months, they've hit a comfort zone in their instrumental conversations that imbues the jams (like the shining explorations surrounding "Nebekanezer" and "Downtown Money Waster" this weekend) with a sonic mess worthy of forefathers like The Stooges, White Album Beatles, and the '70s Sausalito sessions of David Crosby and Jerry Garcia. It's odd to think one band could encompass so many influences AND make sense of them in their own voice, but the Crowes do it. And they do it regularly.
Chris Robinson uses his body like a living punctuation mark. This thought hit me during "Thorn In My Pride" on Friday. I noticed how his face registered all the song's implicit concerns. As the guitars swelled, he became an elongated exclamation point. When things dipped, he was the comma between ideas, big hands air-dancing. In the eloquent, handwritten sentence they composed together in Las Vegas, Chris was the grammar that made things flow. A hirsute soothsayer, his compact sermons on this roaming mount turned on a lovelight and let it shine, shine, shine.
Rich Robinson by Darren Ankenman
The run began with a nasty-as-they-wanna-be version of "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere." They're way funkier than rock usually gets, especially for white boys. I defy anyone to tell me there's any difference to vintage Funkadelic in tone or veracity in their chant of "Does anybody want some?" in the tail section of "Young Man, Old Man." I dig that they're nasty sometimes. They're also often blessedly sweet, heartfelt in a heartless world. But getting it raw from time to time works the senses in such a delightful way.
The covers this round were impeccably chosen. Vegas got the nod with the Stones' "Tumbling Dice," Buck Owens's "Big In Vegas," Gram Parsons's "Ooh Las Vegas," and Garcia's timeless boot-shuffler "Deal," as the weekend's final encore. They don't just play a song, they interpret it. Their respect and enthusiasm for the artists they choose lets them crawl inside the music and fully inhabit it.
Chris Robinson by Darren Ankenman
The highlight sequence of these shows was Saturday's second set progression of Lions' "Cosmic Friend" to a roof-raising "Sometimes Salvation" followed by Joe Cocker's "Space Captain" and a breathless, sweaty assault on early hits "Jealous Again" and "Twice As Hard." As I was wiping wet, matted hair from my face, all I could think was, "This is a time for true believers." The Crowes aren't doing this voodoo they do alone. There are the well wishes and ecclesiastical voices of thousands of fans lifting them up. There is no doubt they hear and appreciate it all, channeling it into the rough manna they toss out to the crowds nightly.
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