Sunday, December 21, 2008

Live Review: The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes
The Fillmore
San Francisco, CA
12.19.08 / 12.20.08


What a night. From the storm clearing sunset drive into the city, to seeing old friends, to scoring a free ticket to the show, to the actual show, it was as Loud Reed sings, "Just a perfect day..."

Maybe if I referenced astronomical charts from Friday night they would note that certain planets aligned and a breeze of cosmic dust blew right over the Fillmore in San Francisco where the Black Crowes were playing the fourth night of a five night run.

Opening with "Cursed Diamond", the band dug in and let the music explode inside the walls of the Fillmore, playing an amazing set of songs from every era of their nearly 20 year career. New songs like "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" meshed well with classic Crowes' classics like "Hotel Illness" and "Under a Mountain". Hardcore fans were even treated to two unreleased gems - "Title Song" and "Bewildered", a song that had not been performed live in over 15 years.

The band were also cover song sommeliers. Bonnie and Delaney's "Comin' Home", Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" and a smoking version of The Rolling Stones "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" to close the show gave the Friday night crowd some nice aural surprises.

Ask any longtime fan and they tell that what keeps them going to shows and following the band around the globe is the unexpected, those WTF moments that allow the band and it's fans to share a moment of musical bliss.

From the organ intro of "Under a Mountain" and continuing through the spacey jam of "Bring On Bring On" the evening became a series of WTF moments. The Crowes absolutely own their interpretation of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" and "Good Friday" was the fourth song of the night off their 1996 underrated and underplayed album Three Snakes and One Charm.

After losing two key members of the band in 2006, a lot of fans questioned whether the Crowes could recover. Witnessing a shambolic show in LA during the fall of 2007 had dimmed my hopes for the future of the band, but Friday's show displayed a new Black Crowes: musically stronger and agile from almost a year of touring with new members Adam McDougal on keyboards and Luther Dickinson on lead guitar and an enthusiasm that flowed from the stage through the songs and resonated with the crowd.

Friday night, the band made me remember why I became a fan in the early 90s.

-12.19.08 setlist-
Cursed Diamond
Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution
Hotel Illness
Comin' Home
Under A Mountain
Jam -> Bring On, Bring On
Girl From A Pawnshop
Girl From The North Country
Good Friday
Title Song
Soul Singing
Hard To Handle -> Jam
Wounded Bird
- encore -
God's Got It
Can't You Hear Me Knocking


Coming off the musical high of Friday night's show, I could not wait to return to the Fillmore the next night and have friends and family hopefully experience a similar night. Again, we met up with longtime friends and fellow fans at the Boom Boom Room to catch up and make predictions about tonight's show between sips of ale and waiting 20 minutes for the bartender to actually serve you.

It was a Saturday night show and the Fillmore was packed to the rafters with fans and folks who couldn't make the shows earlier in the week. The band gave everyone a nice surprise by starting the show with a cover of Traffic's "Feelin' Alright", a song they had not performed live since 1997.

While Friday night stayed focused on the rock and left the jams far and few between, the first indication that Saturday night would be a different beast came during the 3rd song, "High Head Blues" complete with a trippy ending jam that saw the band stretch out and let new lead guitarist Luther Dickinson do his swampy slide guitar thing.

From the opening riff of "Downtown Money Waster" many fans knew we were in for some big jams and the band proceeded to play/jam through the next three songs and 30+ minutes. And while the band did sound great, the jams meandered and threatened to throw the whole evening out of whack. For every great moment in a song like "Thorn in My Pride", the band would jam out right over the musical cliff. Even the dreaded drum solo appeared during "Thorn".

No band should have a drum solo. Ever.

When the monster jamfest ended, the band stabbed the evening's energy level in the heart with a cover of Gene Clark's "Polly". While it is a beautiful, dusty country ballad, after 30 minutes of jams and drums solos, the crowd needed some uptempo rock to get back on track, and unfortunately the funeral march pace of "Polly" did not make it happen.

But for every musical gamble, the band was able to reel it back in with some quality song selection and playing.

"Feathers" a dark, bluesy psychedelic slow burner started the recovery, and the addition of the uptempo country rock of "Movin' On Down the Line" and the classic cut "Remedy" restored the crowd and band to full Saturday night rock glory before the set ended.

In a week full of surprises, the question of how the band would encore tonight to end the show as well as the week-long residency was the topic everyone openly discussed while the roadies moved around the stage setting up gear and restocking liquids. For Grateful Dead fans in the audience, the encore turned out to be a wet dream.

The Dead's bassist Phil Lesh joined the band with his annoying blue-lighted bass for a run through three Dead classics. "Sugaree" was great, growing from a quiet shuffle to an all-band/crowd sing along during the chorus. "Cold Rain and Snow" and "New Speedway Boogie", two songs the Crowes have played off and on through 2008, allowed Crowes frontman/birthday boy Chris Robinson to indulge his inner-Jerry and jam with one of his musical idols.

Never a big fan of the Dead, the all-Phile Lesh encore was a bit much and left something to be desired, but we were in San Francisco and it was a unique encore to a great week long residency that saw the band dust off many gems from its extensive back catalog. The ability to expect the "unexpected" is back with the Crowes live show experience and that is a thrill to long time fans who wondered if the band would ever regain flight after the exit of longtime members Eddie Hawrysch and Marc Ford from 2005/06's reunion tour.

-12.20.08 setlist-
Feelin' Alright
Stare It Cold
High Head Blues -> Jam
Space Captain
Seeing Things
Young Man, Old Man
Let Me Share The Ride
Downtown Money Waster -> Jam ->
Mona ->
Take Off From The Future ->
Thorn In My Pride
Oh Josephine
Movin' On Down The Line
- encore -
Cold Rain And Snow
New Speedway Boogie

Photos courtesy of the fans on the Black Crowes message board Amorica 2. Photos used without permission.


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