Charlotte, North Carolina
November 6-7, 2008
At first, the prospect of The Black Crowes coming to Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theatre seemed a bit of a coup – The Black Crowes? Really?! The same Black Crowes that sold a gazillion albums in the 90s were coming to the same place I visit weekly, a spot that despite the fact that it occasionally books top names in blues, bluegrass and ‘jam band’ circuit, rarely sells to it’s capacity of 956 people?
A quick inspection of the band’s current tour schedule revealed that though the average sized venue on this tour was roughly twice that of the Theatre, only a handful of the scheduled stops were booked at smaller venues, making this two night run a true rare opportunity to see the band in such an intimate setting.
Built in the mid 40s at roughly the same time rock n’ roll was taking it’s roots in this country, The Neighborhood Theatre (or just ‘The Theatre’ as it’s known locally), is anything but pretentious. No velvet curtains, gilded ceilings, grand staircases or any other trappings that one might find at an old time movie palace or art deco era theater awaited the patrons. The venue makes no claims to a rich history steeped in rock though- it was used almost exclusively as a movie house, until the mid 90s when it was permanently converted into a live music venue (ironically, around the same time that the Crowes were playing to sold out crowds in stadiums and arenas, and headlining festivals around the world). In many ways though, this was the perfect venue for the Black Crowes, version 2008.
Depending on their expectations, the majority of Thursday evening’s ‘after work’ crowd were either mildly disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Many likely came hoping for a showcase of hits from the Crowes’ first two, more commercially successful albums. Others might have correctly assumed that the band, touring to support their recent release Warpaint, would heavily pepper the set list with songs from the new album, the band’s first studio effort since 2001’s mildly received Lions. Expectations aside, what the crowd got was a good old-fashioned rock n’ roll show, with a heavy dose of the blues to boot.
From the hypnotic, almost psychedelic opening chords of the slow tempo tune “Movin’ On Down The Line”, (from the aforementioned Warpaint), Chris Robinson let the swaying crowd know that it would be "alright sister / alright brother," seemingly asking us to leave all expectations at the door and trust the fact that the night’s show was indeed going to be all right.
Early into the single set show, a pair of selections from the band’s first two albums, elicited cheers and got the house bouncing. “Hotel Illness” gave Chris a chance to show off his talents on harmonica, and “Thick and Thin,” was quintessential Crowes. Before slowing the pace down with a trio of selections capped off with the new power-ballad “Locust Street,” Chris thanked the audience and welcomed us to the "sweaty rock & roll show."
Next up was a pair of mid-set covers, including the Everly Brothers’ “Brand New Heartache,” which had the brothers Robinson singing in a harmony that made it hard to imagine that there had ever been a rift between the two. Indeed, a patron in the balcony, pointing to the dividers set up between the band members (presumably to keep each one’s amp from bleeding into his neighbor’s monitor on the crowded stage), jokingly asked his friend “do you think they have those dividers set up to keep them from fighting?
Chris Kuroda, best known as the lighting director for Phish, delivered what can only be described as pound for pound one of the best light shows ever to hit the city of Charlotte; he transformed the humble theatre into an arena, and from my spot in the balcony, I stared in awe at the artistry that perfectly accompanied the band’s performance. The fact that the Crowes chose to bring on Kuroda, who many regard as the premiere light man in the business, is just one example of their dedication to the overall production of the live music experience. And seeing and feeling the music, actually experiencing it, is what rock and roll has always truly been about.
“Jealous Again” proved to be the biggest crowd-pleaser of the evening, but seemed a bit anticlimactic on the heels of a pair of songs from the under appreciated Amorica. “Wiser Time” and “She Gave Good Sunflower” had some of the most extensive jamming of the evening, and each gave newest member Luther Dickinson (from North Mississippi Allstars) a chance to show off his amazing talents on slide guitar, and a chance to show why he is a perfect fit for this band.
Before ending Thursday’s set ended with “Sometimes Salvation,” the slow paced yet high energy tune that had Chris seemingly simultaneously channeling the raw vocal power of Joe Cocker, the movements of Mick Jagger and the overall stage presence of Robert Plant, Chris thanked the audience and stated, matter-of-factly, “That’s rock ‘n roll music, and that’s what we do”. A single song encore, (George Harrison’s “I Dig Love”) left the throngs huddled together in the hot theatre wanting more. Happily, for Friday evening’s show, more was exactly what was on the menu.
Click the thumbnail to open more shots from Thursday
Click NEXT below to read about Friday
While the majority of Friday’s crowd had been in attendance the previous night, and were fully prepared for another solid evening of Southern-fried rock n’ roll, a good portion of those in line clearly were not. While waiting to get in, one could overhear many of the conversations almost identical to those that took place in line the previous night- "I hope they play ‘She Talks to Angels’ – that’s my favorite." When I explained to one couple that the Thursday show had a decent mix of songs from their new album and older ones, I was actually asked (something to the tune of) “Really? You came last night? Why would you come to two of the same concerts two nights in a row? You must be a huge fan." Dumbfounded, and in no mood to explain the difference between Rock and Pop, I simply replied “yeah, something like that."
If Thursday’s show started off slowly, Friday’s came out of the gates running. The closing refrain of “Wounded Bird” gave us this perfect advice for the evening: “Set your mind to FLY”
“Black Moon Creeping” opened with a solid five minute jam (often referred to in Crowes set list parlance as a separate song, “Black Moon Jam”). The lovely, almost gospel vocals of the pair of backing singers were heavily featured, almost serving as an additional pair of instruments on the piece.
Next up was “Walk Believer Walk” another great bluesy selection from Warpaint. The grittier “Dirty Hair Halo” from the recently released, but recorded in 1993, album Tall, put Rich Robinson in the spotlight for a change, wailing alternately on both guitar and vocals.
“Seeing Things,” Friday’s sole selection from Shake Your Money Maker drew predictable cheers, and was followed by the only repeat from the previous night, “Whoa Mule.” Once the band gets past the a cappella first verse, this song is thoroughly enjoyable, and is the most unique sounding of any of the evening’s selections from Warpaint, displaying remarkable slide work by Luther.
Another mid set selection of covers included the Neil Young and Crazy Horse tune “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” which was particularly enjoyable, if for no other reason than a presentation that was very faithful to the original.
“God’s Got It” saw drummer Steve Gorman step out from behind his rig with a bass drum painted on one side with the face of George Dubya Bush, himself, complete with black eye – and proceed to bash on him to what was a somewhat less than enthusiastic crowd response, a bit suprising for the "jam band" crowd.
On that note, if there was any doubt that the Crowes could accurately be labeled a "jam band," it was quickly allayed when the next tune, “Downtown Money Waster” rolled into a solid ten minute jam that had Luther and Rich feeding off of one another nicely, before heading straight into an almost twenty minute version of “Thorn in my Pride.”
“Remedy” ended a trio of songs from Southern Harmony and closed Friday’s single set to thunderous applause. The encore, was an inspiring version of Ray Charles’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”
As the audience reluctantly walked out into the mild Carolina fall evening and headed back to their cars, they couldn’t help but walk directly past the Neighborhood Theatre’s marquee which read “The Black Crowes- SOLD OUT.” One wonders how many of them noticed the words and the irony in the fact The Crowes have done anything but.
Click the thumbnail to open more shots from Friday