The Black Crowes
Silver Arrow Records
By James Calemine
Last March The Black Crowes released their first studio CD in seven years, Warpaint. On March 20, 2008, at The Wiltern in Los Angeles the Crowes performed the studio CD in its entirety—something they’d never done before. Warpaint Live captures the spirit of The Crowes’ one-take dynamic.
The Crowes find themselves in a new era since Luther Dickinson (lead guitar) and Adam MacDougall (keyboards) joined the group. The Live track chronology is the same as the studio sequence, which allows the Crowes’ live versions to flourish against one’s memory of the studio renditions.
“Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” opens the show. Rich Robinson and Dickinson weave electric tapestries throughout the mid-tempo rocker as MacDougall’s keys cascade until the end of the song…classic Crowes. A cutthroat blues number, “Walk Believer Walk” operates in The Crowes’ wicked lexicon of gritty musical salvation.
Only Luther Dickinson could step in at this point in the Crowes’ 20-year history and advance the band’s sound. Bassist Sven Pipien plays melodic bass lines on "Believer" that calls to mind the late Allen Woody at his most inspired. “Can you feel the demons coming?/Can you hear the Devil sing?” Chris Robinson croons, as he never fails to deliver a sinister undertone in this dark song.
“Oh Josephine” marks the Robinson’s pursuit of everlasting song craft. Rich’s heart-rending twangs conjure a timeless mojo augmented by his brother’s lyrical story of faded love and sleepless nights. The lowdown “Evergreen” proves an organic rocker complete with kerosene-laced licks and drummer Steve Gorman’s polyrhythmic beat. Another nod to the guitar players on this one…
The swinging “Wee Who See The Deep” stands as a straight-up rocker that reveals the Crowes dexterity. “Locust Street” slows the set’s tempo down, but surpasses the studio version. “Movin’ On Down The Line” counts as one of this writer’s favorite Warpaint compositions. The cosmic intro provides a sensory texture that transcends time…you can almost smell the Nag Champa incense burning from The Crowes’ stage. At this point, one understands the ruthless path the Robinsons' pursued to retain band’s vitality. Warpaint Live serves as strong testimony that The Crowes use little trickery in the studio as this live show proves.
The Crowes’ fantastic rendition of Reverend Charlie Jackson’s evangelical “God’s Got It” reiterates this group never strays far from old soul blues. “Whoa Mule”—an acoustic-based number—manages to inspire even a rowdy rock and roll crowd. Once past the Warpaint material, the Crowes cover Delaney Bramlett’s “Poor Elijah”, Bonnie Bramlett/Eric Clapton’s “Don’t Know Why”, The Rolling Stones’ “Torn And Frayed”, and Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma”. Each song is rendered beautifully as The Crowes in a way—like they did with Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”—make the song their own. They’ve always aggressively pursued ghosts in the great American Songbook…
The Crowes also play the Southern Harmony & Musical Companion tune, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes”, an odd choice considering the evening’s material. “Darling of the Underground Press”, an old unreleased b-side, transmits a last call desperation the Crowes mastered years ago. Warpaint Live exists as a recent proof the Black Crowes remain one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the last 20 years. They’ve never forgotten old American musical traditions, which they always incorporate into their own memorable songs.