The Black Crowes
Mud Island Amphitheatre
September 30, 2010
They could have been the biggest touring rock band in the world, this era’s Grateful Dead or Allman Brothers. They could have been huge. Instead, personnel changes, bickering and discord seemed to derail the Black Crowes at every turn.
Two decades later, as the band has seemingly settled down into a nice groove, they’ve gone and done the logical thing – decided to take what the band called "a lengthy hiatus." Before that break, though, they announced their "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys" tour, which stopped in Memphis to give the Bluff City one last taste of Crow(e).
The current tour is a bittersweet affair for Crowes fans. The band’s playing at a ridiculously high level but they’ve decided to take this break just as they’ve hit stride with Luther Dickinson on guitar. While the retrospective gives fans a chance to celebrate the past and present with the band, it also serves as a reminder that this is their last chance to catch the band for the forseeable future.
As with many of the stops on the tour, the Memphis show at Mud Island Amphitheatre started with the acoustic set with "Soul Singing," and Chris Robinson was in fine form from the get-go.
Robinson is like the Tazmanian Devil on stage, whirling, clapping, dancing…the closest thing to vintage Mick Jagger – a true throwback, the consumate rock and roll front man. Watching him ply his trade is an act of watching someone who truly loves what they do. He had a smile on his face the entire night, which was nice given the reports of him chastising fans for chatting at other tour stops.
The acoustic set was chockfull of the band’s hits from all eras, from a sizzling "Thorn In My Pride" to the old-timey "Garden Gate," The Crowes didn’t just stick to their own catalogue, though; they nodded to Memphis’s own Stax Records when they threw a solid version of William Bell’s "You Don’t Miss Your Water" into the middle of their set.
The loudest reception of the set, though, was predictably reserved for the set closer, the band’s breakthrough hit "She Talks To Angels." The rowdy crowd – made up of folk who look like they’ve survived a Phish tour or two juxtaposed with those who seemed to have just stepped off the trading floor – screamed their approval and proceeded to turn Mud Island into one big sing-a-long.
Dickinson utterly killed on "Bring On, Bring On." Being a hometown show for the guitarist, he seemed to have stepped on the gas a little extra that evening. Maybe when he’s with the Crowes and just playing the guitar his talents are more acutely focused (as opposed to having to sing and lead a band like with the North Mississippi Allstars), but he really seemed on top of his game "Bring On, Bring On" which was particularly spacey and his solo went places that he normally doesn’t go – in a good way.
The band returned to the stage following a short break, and came back in a big way with "Blackberry" before shifting gears completely to the disco-rock nugget "I Ain’t Hiding." Things really shifted into high gear, though with "High Head Blues," specifically the end portion of the tune, which showcased just how good the Crowes are today. As the song picked up pace, Rich Robinson delivered a steady riff while Dickinson unleashed a ferocious solo over the top.
The band followed "High Head Blues" with the tune that follows it on Tall, "Feathers." The entire atmosphere of the show by this point was pretty magical – a rock show in the truest sense. The crowd was at the mercy of a tremendous band, the cool night winds whipped one of the best venues in the South, the smell of the bands incense blended with the pot smoke wafting above the audience, and the music was tight as any band can produce. Robinson utterly owned "Feathers." His seasoned-but-not-stale vocals are perfect on the slow rock tune, and it may have been the highlight of a strong second set.
The Crowes powered through "My Morning Song" and "Oh, Josephine" before getting to a few more of their hits, "Sting Me" and "Remedy." By this point, the crowd had thinned considerably, but the band didn’t seem to notice because they closed with an epic "Been A Long Time." Dickinson really brought his A-game to this tune. As the song built speed, he delivered another monstrous solo. The pace of the latter portion of "Been A Long Time" is akin to many a North Mississippi Allstars song, so it was right in the guitarist’s wheelhouse.
The band left the stage and came back out for a quick but stellar encore that consisted of two covers – Velvet Underground’s "Oh, Sweet Nuthin’" and Ry Cooder’s take on the traditional song, "Boomer’s Story." The former was amazing. Rich handled vocals for the tune, but the harmony between pretty much the entire band and the back-up singers was phenomenal. "Boomer’s Story" was a nice way to cap a stellar show.
The Crowes delivered for Memphis, and in a big but bittersweet way. They showed why they should be in any conversation regarding the best touring bands today. But, they’re walking away while they’re playing some of the, if not THE, best music in their two decade existence. Hopefully, they’ll be back sooner than later. If not, at the very least, they’re going out in style.
Set 1 (acoustic): Soul Singing, Hotel Illness, Thorn In My Pride, Garden Gate, Jealous Again, You Don’t Miss Your Water, How Much For Your Wings, Bring On Bring On, Ballad In Urgency, Wiser Time, She Talks To Angels.
Set 2 (electric): Blackberry, I Ain’t Hiding, High Head Blues, Hard To Handle, Feathers, My Morning Song, Oh Josephine, Sting Me, Remedy, Been A Long Time
Encore: Oh, Sweet Nuthin’, Boomer’s Story