The Black Crowes
November 19, 2010
Me and Chris Robinson’s relationship…it’s complicated.
His words and his band’s music have haunted and helped me profoundly and permanently since I first turned to rock ‘n’ roll 20 years ago.
I love to brag that the Robinson boys went to Walton High School in Cobb County for some lame reason. I’ve taken their Taller branding and morphed it into a practicing philosophy. Imagery of "a head full of sermons and mouth full of spiders" permeates my perspective. My Black Crowes love is as silly as a zonked college kid ritual of pulling tubes, getting in the car to drive to campus, and hitting play on Amorica‘s "High Head Blues," which would peak EXACTLY as I drove under a bridge marking my entrance into reality (aka class).
Yet, this obsession is also as sincere as including "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" on our wedding reception playlist, simply for the joyous "Hallelujah, come join the jubilee" sentiment. Married a few weeks ago, my wife and I simply could not have imagined a more fitting send off to our honeymoon than catching possibly our last Black Crowes concert on November 19, 2010 – the night before flying out of Atlanta.
Given my self-established and non-sensical relationship with Chris Robinson, it’s obviously not as complicated as the sibling rivalry the Black Crowes frontman shares with his brother and bandmate, guitarist Rich Robinson. In an interview aired as part of an "Unplugged" performance on high-definition cable, Chris spoke of their strained relationship – professional, personal and otherwise – to the point where they make music together separated by a continent’s width.
This confession leads an obsessive Crowes junkie to ponder: are the bonds of bad blood responsible for the inexplicable? That one of the greatest rock bands ever is going on a self-desicribed "indefinite hiatus" while performing at peak levels: firing on all cylinders in the live format and creating wonderful works in the studio?
On the opening night of a two-night stand that was perhaps their last hometown run, the Black Crowes rocked the Tabernacle with a mushroom-cloud-droppin’ 180-minute rager that delved deep in their canon and mined gems from some of their finest – obsure or obvious – influences.
Fittingly, "Good Friday" started the opening acoustic set. Warmed up and getting in the mood, Chris introduced the proceedings as "a good ole Friday night sock hop rock ‘n roll show." They then sailed into "Remedy" before hitting the first of many climaxes with the jam out of "Thorn in My Pride." Bopping along to some solid pickin’ by Rich, Chris wailed away on the harmonica, dreamily draped in a regal, velvety purple silhouette against a quasi-hieroglyphic backdrop of a risen moon in golden glow behind a pyramid. A plugged-in Luther Dickinson, the only guitarist standing for the acoustic set, shredded solo, a raucous ride that, upon conclusion, revealed the crowd as hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ rowdy.
Dickinson was a game changer when he joined the Crowes, a band that suffered from a rotating cast’s inability to fill Marc Ford’s rock-monster shoes. On nights like this night, it’s clear the new heights the band is capable of with Dickinson.
A fiery cover of Tom Rush’s "Driving Wheel" kicked the crowd into high gear, a jolly, stumbling communal energy that sustained for the remainder of the eveing. Rich took over vocals for the tenderly wistful "Home for Me" while his brother grooving along with his tambourine. Next, Chris gave a hometown shout-out in dedicating the extremely rare (second time ever, supposedly) "Tornado" to longtime Atlanta weatherman, WSB’s Guy Sharpe (b. 1929 – d. 2004). "High Head Blues" (see aforementioned Taller lifestyle choices) found Chris pouring his heart out, pleading with his muse "No, no, no, no …."
One of the finest in the crowded competition of absurd Chris Robinson quotes came when he told "The Wall Street Journal," which interviewed several rock stars about the annoyance of a hand-held-device-distracted zeitgeist, that "As a band we’ve been trying to string together these moments, the kind of moments I’ve had as a music fan that have blown my mind. That’s not happening when you’re texting or checking your f-ing fantasy league stats." One of these moments surfaced in the set-closing "My Morning Song," when the boys unleased a surreal, spacey mind-fuck that melted into ether before being born again into some sort of crazed, "Can I get witness?" preacher man antics by Chris, dancing with this mic stand before ushering in "March me down / To the seven seas" refrain explosion.
The eletric set began with the road-weary, home-sick paean "Waiting Guilty," a B-side toss off from the Shake Your Money Maker sessions 21 years ago. A rollicking deep track "Another Roadside Tragedy" came next, followed before two quintessential Crowes tunes (again, off Amorica) "Descending" and "Wiser Time."
My personal apex of Crowes appreciate arose during a hypnotic keyboard intro by Adam MacDougall that meshed divinely with percussionist Joe Magistro’ bass drum thumping that could mean nothing but – my oh my, they’re covering the Rolling Stones’ "Just Want to See His Face."
An incredible run of Crowes classics closed the set in fine fashion with "Movin’ On Down The Line," "Sometimes Salvation," "Hard to Handle" and "Sting Me."
Poignancy and a snapshot remarkable enough to put the closure that is the "Say Goodnighht to the Bad Guys" tour in perspective came via the second encore song when Rich, standing and gazing inward to his axe, dominated the moment with raw, amplified guitar power during his solo out of "Poor Elijah."
Rich dotted the exclamation point on an all-around stellar Black Crowes performance. With a smile and a deep breath, it was time to say goodnight.