THE BLACK CROWES, TREY ANASTASIO, NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS :: 12.31.05
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN :: NEW YORK, NY
Words by Dennis Cook
The air was thick. Thick the way dreams look in the movies or the soft focus of sweet memories. An hour into 2006, the Black Crowes had better than 10,000 people singing "My Morning Song" exultantly as any church - a joyful noise ringing out in the big city. My spirit swelled, and I welcomed this feeling of elation, let it slip into my pores.
Some say the expectations surrounding New Year's Eve shows are crushing. We want entertainment from a band but also something more. These are the final hours of an old year and the first minutes of a fresh one. We remember such times with acute detail. Our hopes and fears, our aspirations and disappointments gather around us. Like it or not, each New Year's Eve we stand at a marker on our cosmic timeline. When we congregate in concert halls on such nights, I think we're hoping to be lifted above what's been, bathed in high spirits, washed clean for what's ahead. In their first NYE performance in 15 years together, the Crowes more than satisfied these expectations.
Before delving into just how they did so, let's spare a thought or two on the openers...
There's No Blue Like A Southern Blue
North Mississippi AllStars
Perhaps the best compliment you can pay a band is wishing they'd played longer. After just 30 minutes, the North Mississippi AllStars cleared out, but the general feeling was that more would have been nice. Very nice. There's a pleasant ferocity to the NMA. You can feel their hunger. They're after the music like a bloodhound, a thoroughbred. Their set showed a crowd-pleasing rawness they picked up at the foot of blues veterans like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. MSG might be a big roadhouse, but they shook it on down just the same as if it were a clapboard shithole somewhere in Bygone Holler, Georgia. The songs had a focused hardness missing from their recent studio efforts. And a sit-in from "Mr. Trey" steered them into early Santana or perhaps John Scofield territory. Anastasio's huge imagination piled up note clusters that splattered prettily against the gritty foundation of the AllStars. Mighty pleasing.
Listen To The Sounds As The Night Speaks
Trey Anastasio :: 12.02 by Susan J. Weiand
Despite my recent poor experience with Trey Anastasio and 70 Volt Parade in San Francisco, I went in with relatively high hopes. Lots of factors were in their favor – an evening charged with positive vibrations, a focused 90-minute slot, a venue Trey adores. And by gum, they had me dancing from go.
"Push On 'Til The Day" is a happy clarion call and nigh perfect opener. The group is clearly enjoying playing together, and that's more than a little infectious. With limited time, they kept everything up-tempo, a sunny ruckus of interweaving lines. It didn't hurt that they played one of my favorite Phish tunes after "Push." "Sand" is packed with inherent menace that befits a night in NYC. This performance as well as the versions of "First Tube" and "Come As Melody" signaled a greater kinship with the Talking Heads for Trey's new band than even Phish once had. It was grand to flow through the hourglass with this Studio 54, three rails past capacity, dirty funk version.
Lighting director Chris Kuroda produced a dazzling and immediately empathetic visual complement to the proceedings. His familiarity with Anastasio's rhythms gave him an insider's edge. Thankfully, he also saved some of his most impressive spectral moves for the Crowes' headlining sets. One of the invisible merrymakers in New York, Kuroda deserves a toast from everyone who "oooh'd" and "aahh'd" at his handiwork.
"Night Speaks to a Woman" unfurled like some lost track from Robert Palmer's Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley, bursting with the same swampy mood Little Feat and the Meters brought to those sessions. One line jumped out, resonating more deeply because it was NYE, "Inside I see a tiny piece of me, spread out on the pages I once knew." Les Hall laid in some incredible bottleneck slide below Anastasio's lead. In fact, Hall was on it all night, inserting spicy accents and Bernie Worrell-style keys everywhere.
Trey's Parade proved a great deal of fun, especially if you like a LOT of guitar. The brevity of their set suggests this band might really thrive by NOT doing 3-hour shows. The limitations produced a polished zeal that one would have to be pretty mean-spirited to reject.
Truth in a fable, faith in a rhyme
Then as it was, then again it will be
An' though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
It's impossible to know why the Black Crowes had never performed on NYE before this year. Maybe there was always somewhere else that felt more right than a stage. But as the electric candles flickered and the lads launched into a tough-minded, freedom-chasing "No Speak No Slave" opener, it was clear that their year-long love affair with their music had led to this night.
Chris Robinson by Darren Ankenman
My Lord, what a presence! Dressed in vintage suits, long hair swinging, cigarettes dangling from lips, they were the very model of everything classically rock n' roll. They swaggered with undeniable confidence. Projecting enough force to fill a cavern like MSG isn't something most bands can muster. Natural as the wind, the Crowes gathered the attention of thousands in minutes. Four rows back from ground zero, I felt the surge on a metaphysical level. After "Sting Me," Chris Robinson, a streetwalkin' shaman decked out in royal white, announced, "This is now officially the most rock n' roll place on the planet. And we're gonna prove it." Close as I was, I picked up the faint clank of brass balls.
You know a band is firing on all cylinders when they can take one's least favorite song and make you enjoy it. "Lickin'" has always rubbed me the wrong way. It's a relative to Aerosmith's "Love In An Elevator" or Billy Squier's "The Stroke." Mainly it's the chorus that makes me think this since the actual verses are Chris's usual poetic briar patch. But dang me if I didn't dig the hell out of the nasty riffing and bilious vocals on NYE. One of the Crowe lessons of 2005 has been to trust their instincts even when we might imagine things a different way. The reward for such faithfulness has been their juicy exploration of the tremendous catalog they've amassed over the past 15 years. I think even they've been a bit surprised at how much they have to work with.
The pre-midnight highlight was a heart-melting "Bad Luck, Blue Eyes, Goodbye" leading into a mind-blowing, jam-filled "Soul Singing" that often felt like being adrift on a vast ocean, wondering when Poseidon would resurface and sweep us upward on a foaming wave. Or maybe it was more like brainwaves interpreted as notes, REM sleep thoughts bleeding into the day, leaving us high and safe and sound. Played with massive fervor, it conjured a feeling of life undiluted.
As the magic hour struck, they cut short Joe Cocker's "Space Captain" and brought their families and the opening bands on stage to celebrate as what can only be described as a prolonged confetti storm (followed briefly by glitter and bubbles) buried the audience. Their kids tossed things at the front rows, and genuine warmth radiated from the stage. They played a sloppy "Auld Lang Syne" as most of the visitors filtered off. I suppose it's obligatory, but part of me wishes that tune would fall down a well never to be heard again. They quickly recovered with a nicely ramshackle "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" that transformed the Garden into a king-size hootenanny with Trey, the NMA boys, and guitarist Marc Ford all taking verses.
After a brief respite, they returned hydrated and ready to live up to Robinson's pronouncement as the most rockin' spot on the globe. They began with the wistful wisdom of "Wiser Time" where I realized just how spot-on and unflabby every guitar solo Ford and Rich Robinson took throughout the evening was. I had the sense they'd put some forethought into what they wanted to say. This almost-composed feel had an eloquence that permeated and inspired the rest of the band.
Chris Robinson by Darren Ankenman
"My Morning Song" was massive and mysterious, fragrant like a ripe apricot or pheromones on your lover's neck. As it built, teasing the ending for ages, it felt like a fever breaking when they barreled into the last chorus. Sweaty, grinning from ear to ear, I watched the crowd go nuts as they flowed into the archetypal opening chords of Led Zeppelin's "Ten Years Gone," followed by an ugly beautiful take on Zep's "Wanton Song." Unlike Plant and Page's recent skewed recreations, the Crowes channeled the original vibe from Physical Graffiti with blazing eyes and trembling hands. At the risk of overreaching, one had the feeling of a mantel being passed by the Rock Gods.
The Left Coast Horns, who'd played with them at The Fillmore in August, joined them to take things down on "Seeing Things," which the brass molded into a sad coronation for loneliness. Exquisite stuff, and I don't use that word lightly. They stuck around for a messy "Hard To Handle" that brought Anastasio back out. Everyone was clearly trying to sync up, but what Trey does and what the Crowes do, well, they're different animals and sometimes you can't make 'em mate. Things got back on track with a "Remedy" that I guarantee helped get a few people laid. There's panty-moistening indestructibility to this gliding, sliding bit of lasciviousness, and they worked it for all it was worth in New York. A rough, quick-time cover of the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" was the encore cherry on our early Sunday morning.
We often do not ascribe meaning to those things that are most important to us. We're content to simply feel their significance. Walking away from Madison Square Garden, on the way to share the good company of fellow fans at Twins, the NYC bar we'd taken over, I pondered just what it is in the Crowes' music that hits me right in the heart. The answer that came to me was this:
They make me feel a little less alone in the universe.
Something in the emotional texture of their music vibrates on my frequency. As strange as one's thoughts can seem at times, it's good to know there are freaks out there that get it. Your it might well be different from my it, but one thing a number of us share is the sense that the Crowes get some part of it. Isn't this exactly why our favorite music is our favorite?
The Crowes tap into the same energies that made my teenage self get lost in the supermarket with the Clash or go out of my brain with The Who every 5:15. It's a primal thing - the recognition of some part of our selves in another - that situates us on our soul's bedrock. It's a grand place to find one's self on such an auspicious night.