Sunday, December 06, 2009

Live Review: The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes
The Fillmore
San Francisco, CA
December 2nd & 4th, 2009

Same Time Next Year

Since regrouping in 2005 and playing a run of shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco, California, The Black Crowes have made multi-night runs at the historic venue an almost-annual event. True to form, the band capped their tour supporting 2009's Before the Frost...Until the Freeze double album with a five night run at the historic music venue.

HF hit two shows of the 2009 run and witnessed the Black Crowes flexing their musical muscles to produce two musically different shows, both in song selection and overall vibe . Where Wednesday night was a seamless journey through the band's musical wheelhouse, Friday night was a rock'n roll show that left the crowd simultaneously scratching our heads and picking our jaws off the beer-soaked dancefloor of the Fillmore at the amazing music blasting out from the stage .

Opening a cold and windy Wednesday night with the trippy "Movn' On Down the Line", the band allowed the psychedelic opener room to slowly bloom into a celebratory jam. This is the type of song many bands would close a show with and yet we were only one song into the set.

The swirling organ and slide guitar of "Under a Mountain" followed as the band embarked on a guided tour of their songbook: new song "Shady Grove" brought some Midnight Ramble boogie to the evening, while first album classic"Twice as Hard" reminded longtime fans what got them into the band almost 20 years ago. A thoroughly jammed-out cover of Delaney and Bonnie"s "Poor Elijah - Tribute to Johnson", and finally the drifty balladry of "Wyoming and Me"off the previously unreleased Band album

At this point in the evening, the message was clear: this is going to be one of those nights for the faithful fans in attendance.

In this day of AutoTuned vocal performances, sample triggering and outright lip synching, The Black Crowes play their music organically and the result is a performance that is unique to the day, the town, the crowd and the venue they happen to be playing on that given night.

Maybe it was the cozyness of the five show run at the Fillmore. Perhaps it was the culmination of a band being on the road for the majority of the last two years. Whatever it was, the Crowes' relaxed stage presence made the evening feel like we were getting to watch the band's private music jam, only with a cool light show and full service bar.

Their road chops shined brightly on the poly rhythms of "Another Roadside Tragedy" (complete with percussionist Joe Magisttro, who sat in for the entire Fillmore run), a thunderous "Sometimes Salvation" and the one-two punch of "Girl From a Pawnshop" and "She Gave Good Sunflower".

The encore proved just as random with three more covers- Clapton/Bramlett's "Don't Know Why", the Velvet Underground's "Oh Sweet Nuthin" complete with guitarist Rich Robinson taking lead vocals, and finally a proper show-closing with Little Feat's"Willin'", leaving everyone in the Fillmore with a smile on their face.

On to Friday.

As with any weekend show, the crowd was buzzing to have a good time and the band brought the rock'n roll, opening with "Good Morning Captain" off the new album, followed by the haunting feedback of "Nebekenzer" off 1997s Three Snakes and One Charm album. "Cosmic Friend" followed and while not a personal favorite, the crowd enjoyed it.

The pace came to a halt as drummer Steve Gorman made his way to the front of the stage to play some djembe on "Whoa Mule", the country-folk tune that caps 2008's Warpaint album. A bold move by the band no doubt, but I wonder how the drifty understated tune played to the rest of the Friday crowd, who by now were fully boozed up and ready for the weekend.

The pace picked up a bit as the band plucked their way into the country shuffle of "Roll Old Jeremiah" leading into a jam that allowed keyboardist Adam McDougal to play some bar-room piano fills that twisted together with the percussion until the band collectively spun straight into the hallucinatory gospel goodness of rocker "Good Friday". That my friend's, is a segue.

Suddenly, the rock show was back. After an epic 16 minute "My Morning Song" , the Crowes eased up a bit and gave the audience some Exile on Main Street acoustic blues with new song "Shine Along" before absolutely grinding the show to a halt with the country ballad cover "Lost My Drivin' Wheel". While the song was excellent and allowed Chris Robinson to showcase his vocals, the Friday crowd was collectively too drunk to handle this level of subtlety.

At this point, you really didn't know what was coming next. Groove rocker "Blackberry" got things going again, and was followed by the stomping 60's southern soul of Joe Tex's "Show Me" which absolutely left the majority of the crowd looking dazed and confused as they asked their friends just what the fuck they were listening to at this point in the night.

After departing for the far reaches of outer space on the jam following "Nonfiction", the band must have sensed the crowd was now lost in a Friday night wormhole of musical confusion as they attempted to reel everyone back in with fan favorites "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" and the classic "Remedy".

The encore began slowly, opening with the ballad "The Last Place that Love Lives" off the new album. A frontier western style ballad that showcases Chris Robinson's pipes, the subtlety of the song could have easily been lost on the crowd, but something rare happened: the crowd shut up and actually listened, allowing the song's damaged beauty to shine through.

A booming "God's Got It", complete with drummer Steve Gorman banging away on a marching band drum got the crowd going tribal, followed by Moby Grape's "Hey Grandma"to finish the show.

While the encore was another head-scratching collection of songs, overall the show was fun and the band sounded great. The seamless ease of Wedsnesday's show might have colored our perception of the evening, but part of the fun of a good Black Crowes show is not knowing what's coming next, and we got that both nights in spades.

*Photos used without permission from the Black Crowes fan board. If you would like your photo removed, contact us.

Wednesday Setlist:
Movin' On Down The Line, Under A Mountain, Shady Grove, Twice As Hard, Poor Elijah - Tribute To Johnson (Medley), Wyoming And Me, Wee Who See The Deep > The Raga > Another Roadside Tragedy, You Can All Join In, Girl From A Pawnshop, She Gave Good Sunflower, Sometimes Salvation, Jealous Again, Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)
E: Don't Know Why, Oh! Sweet Nuthin', Willin'

Friday Setlist:
Good Morning Captain, Nebakanezer, Cosmic Friend, Whoa Mule, Roll Old Jeremiah > Jam > Good Friday, My Morning Song, Shine Along, Lost My Drivin' Wheel, Blackberry, Show Me, Nonfiction > Jam, Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution, Remedy
E: Last Place That Love Lives, God's Got It, Hey Grandma


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