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CONCERT REVIEW

The Black Crowes

Glam is Gone, but Good Rock Still Tough to Beat

By Kevin R. Lang
NEWS EDITOR

The Black Crowes

Orpheum Theater

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

If the Black Crowes were a band with mediocre musicians, the technical problems during their show last Tuesday might have ruined the show completely. The Orpheum Theater’s lousy acoustics further garbled Chris Robinson’s lead vocals, which are barely intelligible on many tracks in the first place. The Crowes delighted the crowd by finishing the opening set with their classic cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” but the line “that ain’t nothin’ but ten cent lovin’” was reduced to “ten cent love.”

Fortunately, the Crowes know how to be a good live band. Fans come to the shows time and time again not to hear radio versions of the Crowes’ greatest hits, but to hear the instrumental jams artfully inserted into favorite songs. “Thorn In My Pride” started out sounding like something straight off the CD, but quickly turned into a ten-minute jam session. The Crowes are not the Grateful Dead or Phish -- they will never drag out “Jealous Again” to 45 minutes. However, the best parts of the show were the jams where the poor acoustics plaguing Chris Robinson did not matter, and brother Rich let fly on guitar to lead the band.

Chris Robinson has definitely toned down the on-stage act from his glam phase of the 1990s. He now looks more like a garage-band rocker than a flamboyant bandleader. Jeans, a soccer jersey, and a scruffy beard have replaced the ruffles, leather, and eye makeup that became a Crowes trademark.

However, the Crowes’ on-stage performance has not changed. Chris Robinson strut, thrust, flailed, and grooved his way through each set. He was a Mick Jagger maestro conducting a five-piece orchestra, consisting of brother Rich on guitar, Audley Freed on guitar, Steve Gorman on drums, Eddie Harsch on keyboard, and Andy Hess on bass. Most of Robinson’s moves are straight out of the Jagger repertoire, but he manages to mix in a sort of hard rock flamenco. Between sets, Chris Robinson’s crowd banter fell somewhere between television preacher and guru.

As much as Chris Robinson fits the flashy frontman role, Rich Robinson readily falls into the somber, incredibly talented, musical powerhouse role. He almost seemed bored, like he’d rather be somewhere else. But the expression on Rich Robinson’s face does not match the emotion of his performance. While Chris Robinson can be almost distracting while he’s singing, Rich Robinson shines through on the instrumentals and captures the crowd’s attention instantly. The Orpheum spotlight beamed off Rich Robinson’s guitar and back into the crowd, turning him into a surreal presence on stage.

The Crowes played a good chunk off their new Lions album, including “Midnight From the Inside Out” to open the show, the super-bluesy “Greasy Grass River”, the trippy “Cosmic Friend”, and the soon-to-be-classic “Soul Singing”. The album seems to be unusually blues-influenced at times and extraordinarily hard-rocking at others, but “Soul Singing” is pure Black Crowes southern blues rock.

The crowd seemed decidedly less interested in the new material than selections from older albums. Southern Harmony was particularly well-represented, and the band performed “Sting Me”, “Sometimes Salvation”, “Thorn in My Pride”, and the Bob Marley cover “Time Will Tell”. They closed the opening set with “Hard to Handle” and “Remedy”, probably the two best-known Crowes songs of the entire catalog.

The show ended with a fantastic encore. The Rolling Stones’ classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” worked perfectly as a Black Crowes song, especially the extended instrumental jam. Ironically, the Crowes’ version seemed shorter than the original from the Stones’ Sticky Fingers album.

Though the Black Crowes will not blow listeners’ minds like a U2 stadium show, they’re tough to beat for good rock’n’roll.