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Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

The Black Crowes @ The Riverside Theater

Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

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The Black Crowes’ recent release, acoustic retrospective Croweology, was a decent expectation-setter for the band’s tour-opening performance at the Riverside Theater Friday night. Drawing from that album’s road-wizened renditions of concert staples and fan favorites, the group performed a set that pleasantly stretched the definition of “acoustic.”

Singer Chris Robinson, a bit uncharacteristically, got right down to business, beginning the night with a greasy, wah clavinet-caked rendition of “Remedy” that awoke the ghost of Bill Withers, followed by a barrelhouse reading of minor single “Hotel Illness” that (incense aside) put a profoundspiciness in the air. Career-long improvisation vehicles like “Ballad in Urgency,” “Wiser Time,” and “Nonfiction” tip-toed in the earthy serenity of Al DiMeola, an influence few other roots-rock acts have the ingenuity (or chops) to touch on. The prickly ballad “She Talks to Angels” won mile-wide smiles, and was followed by one of the most dramatically rearranged numbers in years—the rollicking “My Morning Song,” which brought the venue to its feet in true gospel church fashion.

The only weakness of the band’s second, electric set was its sense of familiarity. The Black Crowes’ music has mellowed like good whiskey mellows with age, retaining its heavy kick even as the band increasingly draws from roots music.

The sprawling rock-soul crossover “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” delved into space-funk before closing up shop at around ten minutes. Soon after, the saloon flirtation of “Downtown Money Waster” and the mountain man’s hip-hop of “Thorn’s Progress” segued refreshingly into the sunny-day poetics of “Thorn In My Pride,” before guitarist Rich Robinson took his second lead vocal duty of the night on “Let It Be Gone” to a warm reception. An often under-recognized portion of their shows is the first-album craftsmanship of “Sister Luck” and “Jealous Again,” Sunday morning singles as timeless as anything else crowding the airwaves today. Touring with Jimmy Page a decade ago certainly helped this band understand the majesty of heavy metal, and this awareness colored “No Speak No Slave” and a heavy blues encore of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.”

Since the beginning, the Crowes have moved closer and closer to the core of American music—the Cosmic American place the Robinson brothers have striven for since they first heard Gram Parsons. Friday’s show served as an energizing portrait of their rough-and-tumble Faulknerian aesthetic, broken and beautiful, and the band sounded like they were falling in love again with why they went down this road in the first place.

Photo by Dale Reince