The Black Crowes
Levon Helm Studios
Woodstock, New York
February 28, 2009
To close out February, Levon Helm lent his home studio to the Black Crowes, who did a number of shows there, performing only new material. What resulted was an intimate, amazing night of music that a fortunate few experienced.
Way up north, in a small town named Woodstock, NY, lives rock n’ roll legend Helm. Best known for being the drummer and vocalist for The Band, every once in a while he invites people over to his house (for a nominal fee) to watch him and other talented musicians jam in his private studio. For those of you who have not made this trip, it is quite an experience and will promise to be one of the best shows of your life. Since the studio only fits about one hundred people there is no bad seat as you can clearly see the happy expressions on everyone’s face as they play.
The Black Crowes were invited to take over for a few days, and no recording was allowed because these sessions are to be released sometime in the near future as their new album. After this announcement was made over a loud speaker, the Crowes all came out from a side door and took their positions onstage. Even though the room was small you could feel the positive energy bouncing off the walls as they began fiddling with their instruments.
Chris Robinson (singer/songwriter) let the crowd know how everything was going to go down. He warned that some songs would be played twice in a row, depending on what their producer Paul Stacey, seated on a high rise behind the band with the family members and friends thought of the take. It was a nice surprise to see Larry Campbell (Phil Lesh and Friends, Levon Helm Band) play with the Crowes on the first few songs, mostly on fiddle and pedal steel.
The first few songs, named “Garden Gate” and “The Last Place That Love Lived,” were very different than what most Crowes fans were used to hearing; they featured more of a country twang that incorporated Larry’s fiddle and and mandolin, courtesy of guitarist Luther Dickinson. On the next two tracks, named “Appaloosa” and “So Many Times” (originally written by former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brother’s member Chris Hillman), the pace picked up as Larry sat down to play the pedal steel. It was at this point the crowd really started to get into the show.
Chris picked up an electric guitar for the next song, titled “Little Lizzie Mae,” probably the most rockin’ of all the new songs with tremendous energy. This song was well-received by the crowd, not only because of the quality but because it was very unique to have something that fast played by a band standing on the same floor as the rest of the congregation.
The last true gem of their originals came next, called “A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound.” It was the only song on which Chris played his harmonica, and he did it well. “Good Morning Captain” and “Lady Of Avenue A” followed and though not stellar, they still sounded perfect for the album.
“The Shady Grove” and “Make Glad” were the only two original songs they had played more than once during this run so far, and they closed the set with a song called “I Ain’t Hidin’.” This was not your typical Crowes song either, with country and bluegrass undertones like some of the earlier offerings. This song actually seemed more modern, almost like a song they didn’t take too seriously.
After the Crowes announced they would be taking a short break, everyone in the studio was biting their nails with excitement wondering what they would play. Once they started warming up, Chris announced that all of the pressure would now be on his brother Rich, as it was his turn to sing lead. Chris told everyone “We’re gonna play one of our favorite Velvet Underground songs for yall…” and then they went into “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” a slow and lucid track off one of the band's most famous albums, Loaded. Rich and Sven (bassist) absolutely nailed this song vocally, and there was a beautiful solo battle between Luther and Rich towards the end. A huge standing ovation was given to the band as they gave high-fives and hugs to people in the front row.
After it was all said and done everyone got back into their cars, some with California license plates, some with New Jersey and others with South Carolina, each headed off to either local motels or local interstates. What started out as a great opportunity for fans to get to watch their favorite band up close and personal turned out to be a wonderful experience for all, including the band members. By the end of the show, their faces said it all…they truly believe that this album is going to be something special; and from the looks of it, everyone in attendance agreed.