The Black Crowes
Concert date: 03/19/2008
Run date: 04/14/2008
The sidewalks outside the Fillmore are filled with ticketless fans hoping to find a way into the what is clearly one of the most anticipated shows of 2008 so far, as the Black Crowes roll into town on a mini-tour highlighting their first new studio album in seven years, Warpaint. It’s a tough ticket and rightfully so – there are few bands on the scene today who can match the pure rock ‘n’ roll vibe that the Crowes have been distilling since 1990. While many of their contemporaries have faded away, the brothers Robinson and their mates are still kicking.
It’s also a new dawn for the band, as Warpaint finds them accompanied by two new band members. Longtime lead guitarist Marc Ford has once again been replaced, but this time there’s reason to be excited about it, as ace slide guitarist Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars now fills the slot. Adam MacDougal replaces Eddie Harsch on keyboards, and looks like he’s ready to fit right in with the American peace flag that hangs from his setup.
The tour has been billed as having a first set consisting of Warpaint from start to finish, and the packed crowd is ready to rock as the band kicks off the evening with “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” an uptempo rocker with a classic Crowes vibe. “Walk Believer Walk” rocks with an old-school bluesy strut that fits the Fillmore like a glove, while “Oh Josephine” offers a bluesy lament that seems inspired by singer Chris Robinson’s split with actress Kate Hudson, perhaps the saddest celebrity breakup (from the rock ‘n’ roll perspective) of recent years.
The music sounds fine, though perhaps a bit tentative. Whether it’s planned or spontaneous, something gels during the fourth song, “Evergreen,” which opens up for the night’s first big jam. The band synchs in as Dickinson steps out to deliver some smoking licks that lift the song higher. Drummer Steve Gorman and bassist Sven Pipien lock in tightly, while guitarist Rich Robinson seems connected to the muses of Fillmore ghosts past. The level of musicianship is supreme; the music flows with the Crowes’ signature blend of power and grace.
The vibe continues to build with “Wee Who See the Deep,” a sizzling slice of ‘70s rock that blends Rolling Stones swagger with some of the Crowes’ patented rootsy psychedelia. Female backing vocals conjure a T-Rex “20th Century Boy” vibe as Chris Robinson continues to get his mojo working.
“Locus Street” provides another highlight, an acoustic-oriented tune with a laid-back (if mournful) vibe lamenting love lost that has the crowd swaying in unison with Chris Robinson’s ultra-soulful vocals. This is old school rock ‘n’ roll with serious soul, and there are few singers on the planet today who can deliver it like this.
“Movin’ on Down the Line” is the highlight of the show, a tune that starts off with a supremely psychedelic vibe as Chris Robinson sings “It’s all right sisters, it’s all right brothers,” conjuring a link to Fillmore patron saint Jerry Garcia’s “Sisters and Brothers.” The “electric sky church” is now in session, ministers Robinson presiding, as the congregation comes together as one in what is arguably rock’s holiest temple.
The song builds slowly but surely into a feel-good rocker with a triumphant chorus that recalls the band’s best work. It’s no surprise, then, when the tune opens up for a spectacular jam that soars light years beyond the studio track. The guitar tandem of Dickinson and Rich Robinson is clicking like they’ve been bandmates all along, and the whole band revels. The usually stoic Rich Robinson even cracks a smile -- a sure sign things are going well -- as he looks across the stage at his compadres and the jam builds to the level where band and crowd unite on the higher plane of transcendent groove unity. This is the kind of song that conjures the feeling that rock ‘n’ roll can indeed still help save the planet. It is an instant classic.
The energy continues into “Wounded Bird,” with Dickinson’s slide work again propelling the music higher, his slide licks soaring in synch with Chris Robinson singing “set your mind to fly.” “Whoa Mule” wraps up the set with a feel-good acoustic vibe that provides some yang to the yin of “Locust Street,” as the band receives a well-earned ovation.
Fans looking for a ‘greatest hits’ second set were sorely disappointed, as the set (including encores) consisted of only seven songs, with “Seeing Things” and “Nonfiction” providing the only songs the band has even recorded. “Seeing Things” provides another deep moment for the congregation, though, as the band dips deep into the well of musical catharsis. The hits may be MIA, but rare covers from acts such as Delaney & Bonnie, Dan Penn, and Moby Grape give the set a unique vibe. An encore of the Ray Charles/Joe Cocker nugget “Let’s Go Get Stoned” unites the crowd once again in a sentiment that always goes over well at the Fillmore. But the set is over in an hour, if that, as none of the songs are jammed to the level of “Evergreen” or “Movin’ on Down the Line.” Are the house lights really on by 10:45?
Why a band with the talent and passion of the Black Crowes would want to get offstage early at a sacred venue like the Fillmore is a true head-scratcher. Perhaps they’re still building up their road legs. Fans looking for an epic show to download that’s chock-full of Black Crowes classics would be better served with the August 1, 2006 barn-burner from Columbus, Ohio -- currently enjoying a well-deserved top five ranking at LiveBlackCrowes.com. But there’s still some treasure here at the Fillmore, as the reading of Warpaint offers great promise for 2008 perhaps being the beginning of a bold new era for the band that could ultimately wind up being their best yet.
One gets the sense that the Robinson Brothers have mended their differences, realized what a blessed position they occupy in the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon, and are ready to keep the torch burning as long as they possibly can this time.