The Riverbend Music Festival
The Black Crowes
By James Calemine
Chris and Rich Robinson played their first official gig in Chattanooga, Tennessee, around 1985. The check they received from the club owner for that night’s performance bounced. A lot has changed since those days. They Crowes have gone on to sell over 15 million records, traveled the world many times and now they return on a hot night in June to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a performance on the Tennessee River. The band arrived to the gig by boat on the huge stage-dock at the annual Riverbend Music Festival.
With their latest disc, Warpaint, this gig represents a festival appearance before the group stays out on the road for the rest of 2008. This is not the best location to see a show. The performers are not very close, and in most places, the television monitors provide the best view. It was festering hot, people complained about beer lines and things worked on a token system, which confused most everyone.
However, The Crowes did not fail to deliver the goods. With Luther Dickinson and Adam MacDougall in the band, the Crowes’ sound fits well with the new Warpaint material, but the aforementioned musicians’ aptitude proves remarkable on the Crowes’ huge catalogue of original and covers songs. Chris and Rich Robinson emit a certain electricity…no matter their ill-favored reputation among the mainstream press…because once the music begins, the songs prove undeniable. They long ago committed themselves to the mythology of songwriting. Drummer Steve Gorman and bassist Sven Pipien serve as the solid rhythmic foundation of the band…they can really swing…
The Crowes opened tonight’s show with a two new songs from Warpaint—“Wounded Bird” and “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution”. These songs transfer well live, and even though the band hasn’t played together in several weeks, they sound great. As time passes, one begins to understand—no matter past band eras—the Warpaint songs mark a memorable period in Crowes history because the material proves formidable. At any rate, it’s their best batch of material in over a decade.
The crowd pleaser, “Jealous Again” hit a chord with the sunwashed and weary crowd…since most of these folks aren’t dyed-in-the wool-Crowes fans, but the casual fame/music hound who want to see the notorious Black Crowes in the flesh. They want to hear “Hard To Handle” and “She Talks To Angels” (which they did not play). Next, they rendered a great version of Delaney Bramlett’s “Poor Elijah”, where Chris tells the crowd “Luther’s gonna play his guitar for ya…”
The colossal “Wiser Time” appeared next on the set list. Hands down, this song represents the most-hallowed of all Crowes material since it originated from the notorious Tall sessions that later came out on the Crowes third-album, the brilliant Amorica. “Walk Believer Walk”, from Warpaint came next. This song represents one of—if not THE-- Black Crowes’ blackest, meanest blues number they ever recorded…it seemed appropriate in a sunset landscape on the Tennessee River in the sinful heat of the Chattanooga hills. Next—“Downtown Money Waster” where Chris sings the lines: “To my lowdown downtown money waster/Your only saving grace/Is I like to taste ya/But your flower is spoiled/Too easy to make ya/You got a .38 and your book of revelations/I got a .44 and a load of temptation,” you know these guys play music for reasons beyond the pale of commercial acceptance…
The Crowes performed “Thorn In My Pride” with a little sound trouble, but they still jammed around the problem to come out at the rollicking song “Sting Me”. Considering the month-break—one day-rehearsal-circumstances surrounding this gig, the Crowes have not quite built up that locomotive sound they’re sure to command the first two or three weeks into the upcoming tour, and then it’s lookout…musical history unfolds before the eyes…
The song “Soul Singing”—with its catchy-chorus—always proves a crowd pleaser…even to the most of casual of fans. It seems the Crowes dropped a couple of the songs from the set list, such as the classic new tune, “Move It On Down The Line”, perhaps for curfew reasons. They ended the show with “Remedy”, which still unlocks some rhythmic groove after 16 years since they released The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. The Black Crowes remain a force…they’re one of the South’s most important bands in the last 20 years.
I’m sure tonight’s check didn’t bounce…