Brother, Brother, Brother
Brother, Brother, Brother :
March 6/2/01 / Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA
Black Crowes + Oasis + Spacehog 6/9/01 / Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY
Now that the stellar OutKast have become the most important and creative band of the Dirty South, with Mystikal as an able second-line lieutenant in Uncle Jams Army —- and have transformed the Robinson Brothers hometown Hotlanta into their own fonky Stankonia —- I am curious about the new identity of the Black Crowes who, in recent days, have defected to Yankeeland, following the North Star to Gotham. This curiosity propelled me to catch their gig with BritPop kings Oasis and wannabe glam rockers Spacehog at Radio City Music Hall last weekend: the Tour of Brotherly Love. All I can say fo sho is that the lager-swilling lads did nowt to dent my peculiarly Crowes-centric patriotism throughout the show. And, just as OutKast dropped the great rock song of 2000 from the unlikeliest bunker on the pop planet (the Dungeon Family h.q.), B.O.B., the Black Crowes have delivered on Lions (V2) what is certain to be the key soul triumph of 2001: Soul Singing, a highlight of their Radio City closing set. Glad theyve brought a bit of the Southland spirit with them to the cold-ass Apple.
To be precise, my Tour actually began the weekend before, with Marahs 3-night stand at the Tin Angel, in the true City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Having recently lost their rhythm section, Marahs shows were basically unplugged, just the Bielanko Bros., Dave & Serge, and Mike Brenner aka Slo-Mo on lap steel and organ. Nevertheless, although one of their shows had also been rained out, there was no sense of setback or despair. A Marah show is always a party, perhaps because the Bielankos are brothers that never (publicly) fight but seem to always be steering their soul ship in the same unerring direction. And theyve garnered undying local support. When I was in attendance at the tiny folk club, there was certainly a family vibe in the air: the brothers mother came to speak with me and compliment my hair (she was later feted onstage by her sons, offering combined Mothers Day and birthday gifts), fine-ass Serges new girlfriend had flown in specially from London, and they had family friends visiting from Virginia who were celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary. Additionally, it was my own mothers 60th birthday: although I could not be in Barbados with her, I seat-boogied to particular songs, as the sole review of mine Maman has really related to is one of Kids In Philly. As a West Philly native, she could get the references to Christian Street etc.
Alas, no Christian Street this time out. Nor Faraway You. The banjo stayed on the wall. The rest of the audience had no worries or complaints, as the trio ripped through new songs and past favorites: Float Away, Barstool Boys, (the wryly appropriate) Rain Delay, Round Eye Blues about the saga of Vietnam vet & poet Bill Ehrhart (Serge read some of his poetry aloud as prologue), Point Breeze, Trick Of Love, Fever, Limb, My Heart Is The Bums On The Street and The History Of Where Someone Has Been Killed.
There were two absolutely stunning moments in this Marah show that made one wish it were a vintage Midnight Special taping to be preserved for posterity. Firstly, they transformed Kids In Phillys The Catfisherman, which several critics had dismissed as unimaginative, into some Kashmir-redux masterpiece, with Badly Drawn Boys The Shining sung dead-on by Dave as the center of the jam portion. How they achieved this Orientalist, almost Jajouka Master* sheets of surround-sound with three pieces, Ill never know. It sounded as if Catfisherman was being remixed on the spot by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from beyond the spirit world. The other moment of greatness came when the boys were joined for their encore by Jamie Mann, bassist for Phillys Three Four Tens. They launched into an almost bluegrass version of Love Train which would have simultaneously given Gamble & Huff pause and made the legendary producers immensely proud. Further delighting the lustily singing crowd (all whitefolks but they knew them some OJays!), Serge caught the Spirit to rival my late grandfathers Albany, Georgia parishioners and made his way across the room by dancing on the tables and exhorting his flock with a hand-held mic. Im sure that I previously mentioned in this column how that act has always impassioned me since I saw Milos Formans HAIR at the impressionable age of 8. For me, Marahs show was a great farewell to my season in Philly, which had essentially begun with the release of Kids In Philly.
The Black Crowes Radio City concert also provided an important bookend —- to the sometimes exhilaratingly high, sometimes desperately low Rock Life I began upon moving to Gotham in the year prior to Shake Your Moneymakers release. As I turned the dreaded 30 on 1 May, and this was the first Id seen of the most rock n roll rock n roll band in the New Millennium, I considered this show my true birthday party, a time to kick out the jams to Crowes classics old and current. Its nigh bout time for me to retire from the Road or at least begin to pursue more adult pastimes than preoccupation with pop stars and their self-mythology. Still, I have endured a great deal over the past twelve years that chart the Crowes career and learned life lessons scored to their songs from Jealous Again to Thorn In My Pride to A Conspiracy and Under A Mountain. But, for all that it was my previous desire to follow in the footsteps of Clevelands Jane Smith as Rockin Granny, I was only too happy when the Crowes publicist, Mitch Schneider, informed me that the lads would be ending on a dime at 11 pm. I aint no natural nightbird.
If anything, Spacehog quite stoked up the feeling of advancing age. Their pretension in remaking Richard Strauss Thus Spake Zarathustra into opener The Hogyssey was odious enough. Then I had to endure singer-guitarist Royston Langdons constant adoption of rock star poses (to match his pompadour-cum-mullet) that were already clichin 1975. Unfortunately, I did not spy the luscious Liv Tyler in the wings; the Mack Diva in me just loves her but, alas, it seems her taste in spouse leaves summat to be desired. Cant tell you much more about Spacehogs set because I was amidst one long yawn. They ended with the very effective retro-glam of Resident Aliens In The Meantime, a song that shows them at their best. They should continue in this pleasant if derivative vein. It will give them something to mine as time marches on and ideas recede. Or else its back to the local or the chippy for them.
As for Oasis, I finally got to see all the hoopla and hype in person. Frankly, I have largely ignored them (and their nemeses Blur plus Pulp etc etc) and the entire BritPop phenomena since the Crowes were doing vital work at the same time. Essentially, since the London Quireboys —- once viewed as the Crowes Blighty counterparts at the turn-of-the-Nineties, whose Nigel Mogg is one of the Langdons Downtown, Marlon Richards-helmed Cheap Date set —- faded into The Void and rock-crit trivia, anything occurring on the English scene has been irrelevant. The Nineties were my decade to finally discover America, with a zeal to rival my mate/colleague, Londoner Barney Hoskyns quest after The Band across the Great Divide. And the Black Crowes were the musicians to bring the Yank zeitgeist into focus (if only the pop acts currently crowding the charts could produce records and sensibilities that showed relevance beyond their styling and marketing).
All I know about the Gallagher brothers is their monobrows, poor taste in consorts, the laddishness, footie-obsessions and the brawling and surfeit of egomania that dominates the pages of Hello! magazine across the Pond. They seem to have hired new guys (Gem n nem) in the wake of their near-implosion that look just like them. And then of course theres their Beatlemania. The Gallaghers do reference it to the same degree that Spacehog cited the glam movement; in fact, they did I Am The Walrus. Live, they were a superior band to their Langdon homeys from Leeds but not an especially exciting one. I admit to being perplexed by the Robinsons sudden affinity for the Gallaghers when I can clearly recall them scoffing about their sibling shenanigans many times in the past. Also, I see no reason for Liam Gallaghers existence in the band. Noel Gallagher has an incrementally better voice, plays guitar and apparently writes most of the songs and pilots the whole proceedings. I was far more impressed at the times when younger brother left the stage and Noel stepped up to the mic, particularly on Dont Look Back In Anger. So why does Noel keep babe bruh? Must be some filial mystery and low-class Manc loyalty thing which escapes me because I have always wanted a brother and been denied one.
Liams nasal whine was irritating, his tendency to chin himself or (tellingly) make a halo with his trademark tambourine baffling. He gave off very little as a front man and certainly didnt move! All this posturing by sitting on the drum riser during solos and staring balefully at the audience was lapped up by the Aussie and Brit expats surrounding me, as well as the Paddy who raced up to me during the intermission raving about the cracking good tunes and the front row tix hed paid over $100 for. But I found nothing sexy nor appealing about Liam Gallagher and cannot understand anyone flying across the ocean to see Oasishe gave off nothing. One would do better to just stay home and listen to their discs, especially the earlier singles like (Whats The Story) Morning Glory, a great ode to the morning stiffy that was performed well at this concert.
Finally, the Black Crowes came on, with singer Chris Robinson working the rock n roll Buffalo Cody look in fringe and denim or is that the hard-bitten trapper? If their recent spate of press is to be believed, Robinson and his band certainly have become elder statesmen to a degree, with the advent of their sixth album, mentors of sorts to the likes of Stereophonics and some unlikely aspirants now that theyve outlasted their competitors. Even new Prince fave Nikka Costas previous outfit was apparently Crowesy (see So Have I For You). With all this sudden and hard-won acclaim, the Crowes could be cast as the wise, crusty trappers who come down from the Mountain to impart mysteries to the deluded pop scene and quest after new horizons unpopulated by the sheep partisan to that scene that Chris Robinson so despises. So it seems the bands identity as trailblazers is intact.
Personally, the joys of the Crowes set arose from the reinsertion of past masters such as Stare It Cold (with great call-response between Chris and the sisters), the dark beauty Cursed Diamond, Eds song Descending wherein he really worked out on the spotlighted piano, and the ever magnificent rarity Gone. Even My Morning Song was resuscitated plus proper jam that Rich Robinson and Steve Gorman conjured on, minus the Zep interlude that has characterized it in the last two or so years. These compositions are their equivalent of mysteries. Lions has not quite come together for me yet and I will own up that, with the tracks Ive heard, I find Don Was production too crisp. The set opened with the Robinsons take on the Vietnam experience, Midnight From The Inside Out. It, along with Greasy Grass River, Young Man Old Man and the aforementioned Soul Singing, were very potent and fonky live. So I believe it will all grow on metheir second greatest album, Three Snakes And One Charm, once sounded impossibly odd.
Ultimately, in this cross-cultural summit, the Black Crowes came out the most triumphant. Seems itll be a long while before the Brits regain the rock n roll crown. With the genre deemed moribund beyond the Crowes and Oasis respective camps, they may never. However, the Robinsons and the Gallaghers makeshift road family forms a brotherhood intent on keeping the party going.