Concert Review: The Black Crowes

What may be the Crowes' last appearance in L.A. was their best area performance in years.

The unusually detailed print ad in the LA Weekly two days before the Palladium show was likely the most straightforward and forthcoming approach the Black Crowes have taken during their entire two-decadelong career:

"Three-hourlong show featuring their hits, deep album tracks and special covers. ONE LOS ANGELES DATE! -- Indefinite Hiatus to Follow."

As it were, that's generally the same type of concert experience they've been offering, in varying degrees, diehard followers night-in, night-out for years, but it's ominous proof that things are different now given the band and management are actually coming right out and telling anyone that might still not know that this is what the band intends to provide, and quite possibly for the last time -- so get it while you can.

And that's quite a concession, given brothers Chris and Rich Robinson have essentially based their musical vocations on Rick Nelson's advice: You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

They haven't been able to appease a record label, when they were still signed to one, since their 1990 multimillion-selling debut, Shake Your Moneymaker, and its follow-up, Southern Harmony and Musical Companion; they've had their share of difficulty placating their fans, with the divide between those coming to shows to hear the early hit singles and those enamored of lengthy jamming on album cuts too great to not leave one camp grousing afterwards; and hell, they often haven't even been able to satisfy themselves, doing things "their way," which largely meant being out of step not only with the marketplace but the culture of the times, second-guessing and shelving recorded material and suffering a high turnover rate of supporting band members from virtually ceaseless touring.

Which makes it all the more ironic, puzzling and bittersweet that what may be the Crowes' last appearance in L.A. was their best area performance in years.

Two sprawling sets, the first all-acoustic, delivered as advertised: 1992's "Remedy," a No. 1 Billboard Album Rock Track, was served up out of the gate and instantly galvanized the crowd; the rarity "Tornado," fleshed out with a Floyd Cramer-esque piano lilt and extended lap-steel lead by guitarist Luther Dickinson from its 2-minute, 41-second recorded running time, delighted Crowes completists; the first of several covers, the Rolling Stones' languid "No Expectations," was a treat given the originators themselves rarely have performed the song live and the Crowes have the innate ability to fully inhabit the songs they choose to appropriate; and the gospel-revival breakdown added to concert staple "Thorn in My Pride" had the Sunset Boulevard venue sounding and feeling more Sunday morning than Saturday night.

Considerable mention must also be made of the boundless energy and consummately tasteful drumming of Steve Gorman, who exerted as much effort bashing congas and other percussion in that first hour-plus set as his traditional kit. He, along with longtime manager Pete Angelus (who can still be seen applauding after songs on the side of the stage), has been the only other constant in the group and remains vital in framing the brothers' material as well as maintaining stability and an affable demeanor (his podcasts at SteveGormanSports.com and advice column What's Wrong ... With Steve? are quite entertaining).

The second set commenced after 10 p.m. with their unreleased hard-rock gem "Exit," and by evening's end (shortly before midnight), the repertoire would include more familiar radio tracks ("She Talks to Angels," "Hard to Handle"); a transcendental instrumental segue between Amorica's "Ballad in Urgency" and 'Wiser Time"; and the disparate encores of the Velvet Underground's "Oh! Sweet Nuthin' " and Little Feat's "Willin.' "

A brief Axl Rose-type moment threatened to disrupt the momentum of the gig's goodwill when, during the rendering of "And the Band Played On," Chris seemed intent on zeroing in on a disruptive attendee in the audience, but play on they did and without missing a beat.

Yes, it would seem the Black Crowes finally relented to give the people what they want ... and then said goodbye.

Venue: The Palladium (Saturday, Dec. 11)
Set list:
Acoustic set: Remedy, Hotel Illness, Whoa Mule, Tornado, No Expectations, Thorn in My Pride, Driving Wheel, Downtown Money Waster, She Talks to Angels, My Morning Song
Electric set: Exit, P.25 London, Ballad in Urgency, Wiser Time, Oh Josephine, Stop Kicking My Heart Around, Hard to Handle, And the Band Played On
Encore: Oh! Sweet Nuthin', Willin'

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