The Black Crowes Light Up New York: Concert Review
“Welcome to the Wednesday night rock 'n' roll show,” Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson offered during the band’s second night at the recently restored Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, as the band opened with a crisp medley -- “Jealous Again” and “Thick N’ Thin” -- from their 1990 debut album, Shake Your Moneymaker.
Touring for the first time since 2011, the Crowes currently consist of three original members -- Robinson, his guitar-playing older brother Rich and drummer Steve Gorman -- longtime bassist Sven Pipien and relative newcomers Jackie Greene on guitar and Adam MacDougall on keyboards. Greene is best known for his work with the Grateful Dead offshoot band, Phil Lesh and Friends, with whom MacDougall also plays.
Looking trim and sporting a long beard, the lead singer still has his trademark vocal chops -- a raspy, piercing instrument that cuts through the band’s roaring cacophony. During the lengthy instrumental jams, Robinson rattled a tambourine, clapped or spun around, making dervish-like moves. It wasn’t until the closer, “Thorn in My Pride,” that he added a wailing blues harmonica to the mix, and during the encore, strummed a guitar. Like Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey, Robinson usually stands alone at the mic, a leader of men bent on having a good time.
Alternately compared to the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces and the Allman Brothers, the Crowes cannot deny their retro roots. On this night, they attempted to capture the R&B energy of Joe Cocker and Delaney & Bonnie with two well-placed covers. On “Space Captain,” Robinson sang about “learning to live together ... till we die,” repeating the rollicking chorus with harmony help from the band. On the high-energy “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Johnson,” co-written by Leon Russell, which closed the show, the Crowes failed to elicit the crowd response they hoped for, probably because it was such an obscure choice.
Most of the 17-song set, however, was familiar to the sold-out crowd, comprised primarily of Black Crowes fans who got into them when they released four solid albums from 1990 to 1994 -- Shake Your Moneymaker, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Amorica and Three Snakes and One Charm. They performed four songs from each of the first two albums (also including “She Talks to Angels” and “Sister Luck”), two from Amorica (“Wiser Time,” “Descending”), but none from Three Snakes.
Though Shake Your Moneymaker features the band’s biggest hits (such as “Hard to Handle,” which was omitted), Southern Harmony is generally regarded as the Crowes’ greatest album. “Remedy,” with its cascading power chords, sexual lyrics (“Will you let me come on inside / Ooh, will you let it glide”) and rolling piano, got the crowd revved up. Minus backup female vocals, the song lacked its call-and-response tension, but this stripped-down version was still a highlight.
Joining “Thorn” and “Remedy” from Southern Harmony were pitch-perfect performances of “Sometimes Salvation” and “My Morning Song.”
The dueling guitars of Greene and Robinson, during long solo sections, made for prime listening. More known for his rhythm playing like Keith Richards, Robinson was a fiery force on “Thorn” and provided a lighter acoustic touch on “Angels.” On “Wiser Time,” the two pickers delivered a double-barreled rock-off assault.
No slouch on multiple keyboards, MacDougall, who also plays in Chris Robinson Brotherhood, channeled Leon Russell for much of the night, comping soulful piano and Fender Rhodes parts. Drummer Gorman isn’t flamboyant, but he’s rock-steady and knows the Robinsons better than anyone.
Those attending on multiple nights didn’t get much duplication (only seven songs were repeated from Tuesday), which bodes well for the two upcoming Terminal 5 shows.
Although they haven’t recorded a new studio album since Warpaint in 2008, the Crowes do have new product. Available on vinyl as a four-album set or as a digital download, Wiser for the Time documents the band ‘s 2010 New York concert run. With any luck, they’ll have music from these current shows available by 2016.
Thick N’ Thin
(Only) Halfway to Everywhere
She Talks to Angels
My Morning Song
She Gave Good Sunflower
By Your Side
Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution
Thorn in My Pride
Poor Elijah/Tribute to Johnson