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AD contributor, J. Crosby, went out looking for a rock show, last week, in Los Angeles. Sounds like he found one. – AD

The Wiltern, Los Angeles, 3.20.2008: I used to have an office job. I really enjoyed it at first. It was work, but it didn’t really seem like work. And I was pretty good at it, too. After awhile, though, it wore on me. Rather than waking up invigorated each morning, I began pressing snooze, considering for a moment, every day, to call in sick, or maybe just quit. But I always forced myself awake, slogged through the day, and still somehow managed to do a good job, even though I was just going through the motions. Maybe it was the politics, the competitive atmosphere or simply the idea that I was doing work for the sake of work, without any real utility or significant purpose.

That’s kind of how the Black Crowes show felt to me. Growing up in Atlanta–their hometown — not only was I a fan, but I also harbored a certain pride. I was proud that the Robinson brothers grew up just two miles from my doorstep, in much the way, I presume, French Lick, Ind., residents were proud of Larry Bird. So, secretly, selfishly, I was fingers-crossed hoping this tour — in support of Warpaint, their first LP in seven years — would be a tour de force, a revolutionary return from one of the last, great, pure rock-and-roll bands.

But it seems, from the crowd, anyway, that the years of disagreements, power struggles and immersion in the Hollywood version of music, that they, like I did in the corporate world, are phoning it in. Yet somehow, they still do a good job. The first set comprised a play-through of Warpaint, every track, in order, one through 11. One of those things that, by the third or fourth song, it’s difficult not to be distracted by that MO, and listen to the music alone.

But the music did hold strong. Chris Robinson’s vocal presence, Rich Robinson’s rhythm guitar prowess and the addition of North Mississippi All-Stars guitarist Luther Dickinson are a formula that’s hard not to enjoy.

Over the last two decades, Chris Robinson has mastered the art of the instrument-less, psychedelic rock singer, melding versions of Robert Plant and Mick Jagger onstage to create a persona that seems, not contrived, but individually unique. He did pick up a guitar on two songs, which just looked clunky and awkward in his hands, like a first-time smoker holding a cigarette. But his voice still scratches in all the right places. It still perfectly invokes a rock-and-roll heyday found today only on vinyl spins, gritty video archives and hazy, sun-bleached amber photographs, fuzzy and nostalgic.

Rich adds buoyancy to rhythm guitar, an instrument that normally drifts just beneath the surface. He makes it something you actually want to watch, incorporating a 12-string at times, and modifying the practice. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to hand over the stage entirely to Chris, or maybe it’s because he’s just good at it. I think the latter. And I say that because it’s hard to surface the way he does with someone like Luther Dickinson at stage left.

Dickinson, on slide for much of the show, simply abused the guitar, much in the way Warren Haynes might — a way just few others are capable of. He certainly gives them a fuller sound, a nice added piece of the a curious Black Crowes puzzle.

The band walks the fine line between mind-numbing jam and 2.5-minute pop extremely well. And while their maybe be a number of great rock bands out there, there are precious few rock-and-roll bands. If you’re scratching your head there, then good. Because there’s a stark contrast between, say, U2 (rock) and The Black Crowes (rock-and-roll). Rock-and-roll is blues, folk and country — the very foundation of the genre — getting equal respect, if not direct attention. There’s a groove that’s lost when you drop that “and roll” that the Crowes somehow cling to, after 20 years of music, breakups, Hollywood wives and sibling rivalry, they somehow still hold on. But they’d better hold on tight, because if each show for them is just another day at the office, they’ll probably lose their grip. There’s only so far talent will get you if you just don’t care anymore.

Highlights:
*Drummer Steve Gorman strapping on a marching-band style shoulder bass and hopping out front next to Chris during “God’s Got it.”
*Capping the encore with a cover of Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma.”
*Luther Dickinson
*Luther Dickinson
*And, last, but not least, Luther Dickinson.

Download:
MP3: The Black Crowes :: Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution
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Amazon: The Black Crowes – Warpaint

+ Download DRM free music via eMusic’s 25 free MP3 no risk trial offer
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6 Responses to “The Black Crowes :: Los Angeles/Last Week”

  1. Well observed and well written too. I get what you’re saying about the office job. I get, too, what you’re saying about “rock” versus “Rock ‘n’ roll” – my currently developing band should be a “Rock ‘n’ roll” band, defined as you have written it up there, but here in the UK that has connotations of brothel creepers, drapes, teddy boys and bill haley and the comets (Hey, I once opened a show for him! But that is another story) And I so so get what you’re saying about Luther Dickinson – NMAS are in heavy rotation on my ipod – so will this Black Crowes album be when I get it. And I’ll certainly seek out some torrents as they arise. Cheers.

  2. Great review JZ!!! I’m still kicking myself in the nards for not seeing these guys when they came back to ATL. I’ve heard nothing but awesome things about what Luther brings to the table on the tour, and it’s true… he’s a total badass. I’ve only heard a few snippets of the new album, but what I’ve heard thus far is nothing short of the being the tits. Keep the sweet stuff coming, and we’ll keep enjoying.

    AD – Love the Sirius show!

  3. They definitely weren’t “phoning it in” when they played Atlanta. Luther killed it, as did everyone else in the band. Looking forward to hearing it again when they post the live shows on the 31st!

  4. Great review, but there’s one thing I can’t figure out…was it FUN?

    😉

  5. Interesting review… I’ve seen them too many times to count, and I must say that the Atlanta show on this tour was just as good as when I saw them for the first time over 15 years ago. Chris, like you said, was quite awkward with the guitar, but I give him props for having the nerve to play alongside the likes of Luther and Rich. He is still one of my favorite frontmans, pure entertainer. I was amazed that the concert I saw was only 5 days after the release of Warpaint, and the audience (including me) was already singing along to every song! Great show, brilliant album. Hopefully there are many more to come!

  6. so far i the new album has had more “legs” in my rotation than any album has in recent years. and while i LOVE luther, its not just the crowes with a good guitarist (let’s not underrated mr. ford). the songwriting on this album is so far beyond what they’ve done, even since amorica. the paint by numbers 6 min mid tempo chris wailing crowes songs that had dominated the last few albums are replaced with songs having real depth.

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