The Black Crowes are a gateway band for me--from first time they burst into public consciousness and into my ears, they helped introduce me to a lot of classic rock I had largely dismissed as a young punk. It started with the cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" on their first album, and continued through the years via covers delivered in almost every live show I've seen of the Brothers Robinson and Co.
Twenty-plus years since I first saw them at the old Speedway Cafe, opening for a band called Junkyard a few months before The Black Crowes released their first album Shake Your Moneymaker, the band remains one of my favorite live acts, consistently delivering energetic sets of their Southern rock-meets-Brit blues, all led by Chris Robinson out front, arguably one of the best frontmen around. His Jagger/Stewart moves and raspy wail are joyful to behold--it's pretty hard not to have a great time when you're watching him on stage.
Sunday at Red Butte Garden, the Black Crowes found themselves in an ideal concert environment for a show that skittered across their catalog, as well as well-chosen covers of songs that served to connect the band to the musicians who influenced them.
Show opener "Under a Mountain" was clearly inspired by the venue, the sunset glowing off the hills to the east of the stage as the band began right around 7 p.m. Chris Robinson, a lanky shaman dancing barefoot around the stage, engaged immediately with the audience who hustled up front to dance to the soulful hooks erupting from Robinson, his brother/guitarist Rich Robinson, and the others on stage.
"She Gave Good Sunflower" three songs in infused the crowd with a collective energy that only grew as the sun went down and the show moved forward. And the follow-up, "My Morning Song" from 1992's Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, was a strong display of the band's skills, particularly new guitarist Jackie Greene. His solo excursions played nicely against Rich Robinson's rhythm parts, and made the departure from the band of guitar ace Luther Dickenson not nearly as traumatic a shift in the band's dynamic as it might have been.
Stellar performances of "Shine Along," "Thorn in My Pride" and he band's breakthrough ballad "She Talks to Angels" led into the strongest portion of the night, a run through "Wiser Time," a righteous cover of "Feeling Alright," an inspired take on the band's own "Remedy," and then Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle."
That burst led right into a pleasant surprise, a cover of Billy Joe Royal's "Hush," made famous to me by Deep Purple. In decades of listening to the Black Crowes, and hearing them cover songs by the Dead, The Band and myriad others, I never would have expected such a strong version of that old nugget. It made me want to hit iTunes before the show even ended.
An encore of "Magic Rooster Blues" and Ry Cooder's "Boomer's Story" was the capper on a raucous show that had the audience filling Red Butte Garden on its feet for nearly every minute. Seeing a band this far into its career--having survived lineup changes and the antagonistic relationship of the Robinson brothers--still killing it on stage is a wonder.
Here's hoping we have plenty of more chances to see them. A regular summer stop at Red Butte Garden would seem to be in order.