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.
*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.”
*And, last, but not least, Luther Dickinson.
MP3: The Black Crowes :: Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution
Amazon: The Black Crowes – Warpaint