Before I get to my thoughts about the show, I am prompted to preface it after reading a comment left for somebody else’s review of the show. The commenter criticized the writer stating that he was reviewing the experience rather than the performance, he didn’t want to hear about the show as much as he wanted to know what guitars, amps, effects, and related paraphenalia the band was using.
I find this criticism to have no basis. Granted for those heavily into equipment, other players and such, this information could be deemed worthy, but for the majority of us, the experience is what we want to know about. It is the experience that makes the show, not the equipment.
I like to read a review and start to see the venue through his or her words, not a listing of equipment. The experience, and how the writer felt or how he approached the show, that makes for an interesting read. The story is what will put you there, or give you a better reason to understand where the writer is coming from. For what it’s worth, the review was very good, but I cannot remember what site I read it at.
Now for my experience.
A couple weeks ago, on a Friday around quitting time, a friend told me about a rumor that the Black Crowes were going to be playing the Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Chance is a great club that I have frequented for shows at least once a month for the past 4-5 years, so this news was music to my ears. He said he wasn’t sure it was them, since the listing was for Mr. Crowe’s Garden. So he put the pieces together: That was the name the Robinson’s used when they first formed back in 1984, the next week they were to play a string of sold out shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom, the beginning of their reunion comeback tour, plus they are known to do warm up gigs prior to the big shows. On top of that tickets were $30 apiece, no cover band could charge that there. So as soon as tickets went on sale I was at Ticketmaster.com getting mine. Then the wait for the evening of March 18, 2005 began.
Now I am not a terribly big Crowes fan, I bought their first album back when it came out way back in 1990. I liked it, but I was just beginning to get into music and could not fully grasp the talent that was contained within. My tastes then took a turn for the heavier end of the spectrum and I never followed back up with them.
Then a year or two ago I got the greatest hits album, and had a better respect and liking of what I heard. Now with the band coming to what was essentially my backyard after a three-year absence, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to experience them live. There was also the fact that last September I saw Rich Robinson perform live at the same venue in support of his excellent solo album. Now I could see them together in the Crowes persona. Now I could speculate on how few songs I would know and which ones would I get to hear. I really wanted to hear “She Talks to Angels.”
I got to the club shortly before the doors opened, and fortunately the line went pretty quick. I got inside and stationed myself behind a few people near the sunken pit area in front of the stage, so I was maybe 15 feet from the stage with a pretty good view. The show was a sellout and the place was filled with people, hardcore fans, and the inexperienced, such as myself, all set and ready.
At approximately 9:08 the Crowes took to the stage, coming in through the back door on the stage. The crowd erupted, Chris clutching a harmonica and sporting a bushy beard with a string of what appeared to be red beads in it. They then opened up the show with “Good Friday.” And immediately the difficulties began.
Guitarist Marc Ford’s guitar was not reaching the amps. Chris led the band in another measure of the intro while Marc retrieved another guitar from one of the hands onstage. Then the song went into full force, leading right into the second cut, “Nebekanezer.” For the first hour and half or so, I did not recognize any of the songs they played, this did not detract from my enjoyment, but I couldn’t sing along like many in the crowd were doing. They performance was absolutely electric. It’s hard to believe that they had been away, in any form, since 2001. this being only their fifth live performance since then. Considering how good they sounded on this night, they should be great when the Hammerstein shows start next week.
Before going further I should mention that as good as the show was, the performance was hurt by a bad mix. It wasn’t awful, I’ve heard much worse, but it didn’t do them any favors. The guitars were up too high making it hard to hear the vocals and burying the keyboards. Which is a shame too, as the guys were playing great, which was evident from each of the solo segments.
The bits and pieces that I heard of Chris Robinson sounded great, he hasn’t missed a beat. Rich Robinson proved at the solo show how good of a player he really was. This concert only reinforced that fact, and he demonstrated more jamming tendencies lacking from his solo performance.
These two play both sides against the middle, giving us a cross between a jam band mentality and a more structured song mentality giving us this great mixture of the two. Chris seems to be the guy with the jam side while Rich attempts to focus it. I could be off, but that is how I see it. I am not a fan of jam bands, preferring the structured sound, but this mutant version of the two falls well within the acceptable ranges to my taste. There were a couple of extended jams linking a couple of pairs of songs, featuring some shredding guitar solos and drum and keyboard segments. Incredibly tight, this lineup plays great together.
Mentioning the lineup prompts me to mention who comprises this version of the Black Crowes, Chris introduced them in between the encore songs. I am not sure where each guy fits into the history of the Crowes, but I do know that the drummer is new to this incarnation, previously playing in Rich’s band, and Marc Ford joined the band after the first album, but was not with them for the most recent of studio recordings.
Let’s start with the new drummer, Bill Dobrow: He sounded great and he seems like a high energy drummer who was barely contained here. It would be interesting to hear him truly cut loose. He has a high contact bouncy style of drumming which worked well with the high energy setting. Next we have keyboardist Eddie Hawrysch, who, while drowned out at times, also sounded very good, adding a nice texture to the music which is absent in most of the bands I normally listen to.
I have found myself more often lately listening to bass players and tonight Sven Pipien had a prominent place in the mix and his playing was excellent. Then there is the previously mentioned Marc Ford. All I can say is “Wow!” He put on a clinic for much of the night. I was totally unprepared for his playing which compliments Rich perfectly, and also stands up and leads the band at times. He exhibited great solos, solid riffs and some great licks during the jam segments. Chris and Rich were, as expected, solid. It was great to seem them onstage together again.
Back to the set, I finally recognized a song! The band entered the “Greatest Hits” portion of the set. Starting off with “Twice as Hard” they pumped life back into a slightly fading crowd. This woke them up. And finally something I could attempt to sing/mumble along poorly. Playing like it was 1990 all over again they followed that up with “Jealous Again,” and despite some technical difficulties with Rich’s equipment sounded excellent, with even more great crowd reaction. This led us to “Remedy.” A great rocking version of it got the crowd going, only for them to leave the stage following it.
That stage exit was very brief as they returned to the stage for a couple of encore songs. The first thing we heard was the opening chords to “She Talks to Angels.” Finally! The song I had been waiting so long to here. I wasn’t expecting it to be played on electric guitar, so those chords initially threw me off, but that did not last long. They followed that up with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Bend Down Low.’ This was the first time they have performed this live.
Setting a reggae groove really brought the show to close. It sounded excellent and was a departure from what had come before.
Excellent show, I was disappointed that we didn’t get “Hard to Handle,” but we did get a few others that I wanted. The show lasted nearly two hours and from start to finish. I encourage any of you who have the opportunity to see them, take it, even if you aren’t a hardcore fan. I’m not and had a great time at the show.
BALLAD IN URGENCY
YOUNG MAN, OLD MAN
THORN IN MY PRIDE
TWICE AS HARD
SHE TALKS TO ANGELS
BEND DOWN LOW – Bob Marley (first time live)