- The Black Crowes- Freak N RollInto The Fog
It was seventh grade history class with Mrs. McGinty.
Kurt Haas, the new kid from Chicago, walked in the first day wearing a faded Black Crowes t-shirt underneath a green flannel button down and sat down behind me. I asked about the t-shirt, we started talking about music (Id seen my first Allman Brothers show at the Beacon the past winter) and a few days later he brought in a copy of Shake Your Moneymaker on a Maxell II.
If you dig the Allman Brothers, youll dig this, Kurt promised. These guys have soul on top of soul.
It was 90, maybe 91, and Hard to Handle was on the cusp of breaking through to commercial radio. Our history class had made a breakthrough of sorts by the end of that first week – Blake Ferm, the class clown, had picked the lock on Mrs. McGintys closet before class one afternoon and discovered several sparsely covered wigs atop mannequin heads. By the time the elderly teacher arrived to class, the wigs were hanging from paper clips jammed into the foam ceiling tiles, the mannequin heads were sporting a wide variety of mustaches, beards and mutton chops and Shake Your Moneymaker was spinning in my yellow, rather-clunky-by-todays-standards Sony Sport Walkman hidden in my backpack. The abject horror on Mrs. McGintys face as she waltzed into the classroom, coupled with the gritty guitar riff that opens Twice As Hard, forever cemented both my decision to not pursue a career in education and my estimation that the Crowes may be the best young rock band walking the planet.
Fifteen years on and both the Crowes and I have held up our ends of the deal we struck that day despite the altruistic merits of a life spent educating Americas youth, I never became a teacher; and despite brotherly feuds and bouts with drugs, the Black Crowes reunited in 2005 after a brief hiatus to continue to play their soulful brand of classic rock n roll.
Freak N RollInto the Fog, the bands first-ever DVD released March 21 on Eagle Rock Entertainment, documents the bands five sold-out nights at San Franciscos historic Fillmore Auditorium last August. The Fillmore run was part of a multi-night, multi-city tour that found the band shoring up their devoted, loyal fanbase across the country playing seven nights at New York Citys Hammerstein Ballroom and five nights at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles before taking center stage as headliners of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Bonnaroo, and the Austin City Limits Festival.
Setlists for the shows spanned the groups six studio albums as well as a few choice covers. Freak N RollInto the Fog opens with (Only) Halfway to Everywhere augmented by back-up singers Charity White and Mona Lisa Young and Dave Ellis Left Coast Horns. Lead guitarist Marc Ford absolutely rips apart Sting Me, proving once again what a marvelously underrated axe man he is. Not to be left out of the act, rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson rocks the opening riff to Jealous Again and then trades vocal duties with brother Chris as keysman Eddie Hawrysch bangs out eighth notes into yet another gorgeous Ford solo.
Space Captain shows exactly why Chris Robinson ranks right up there with Eddie Hinton, Jim Dickinson, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on the whiteboy soul barometer. Few singers out there can do any justice to a tune sung by Joe Cocker, but Robinson does it convincingly with room to spare. She Talks to Angels is as striking and stirring as its always been, and Hawryschs slow, seductive Hammond swells that open the stellar Seeing Things are contrasted beautifully by Robinsons soaring vocals and searing horns punches from Ellis and his Left Coast Horns-mates. Remedy rocks just like we all remember it, drummer Steve Gorman propelling the Ford-Robinson guitar duo to new heights.
The lowlight of this rather joyous occasion is the actual video production of the concert footage. Eagle Rock Entertainment has plenty of successful projects of these sorts under their belt, but despite the claim that it was shot in HD, the lighting, camera placement, and angles chosen for this DVD leave something to be desired. Perhaps Martin Scorcese did all concert directors a disservice with The Last Waltz, with its wide-angle shots and beautiful hues that bathe the stage in an omnipresent golden glow; perhaps the Fillmore Auditorium is not a great venue to shoot a concert film, though the upcoming My Morning Jacket DVD shot there this past November may beg to differ. Regardless, there are moments during Freak N RollInto the Fog where I found myself wondering why the band issued a visually mediocre product as their first offering after their much-publicized split.
The highlight was without a doubt Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz, the beautiful acoustic guitar duet of Ford and Robinson recorded as a B-side for 1994s Amorica.
For years and years, Ive said that if I had the opportunity to pick one piece of music to be playing when I march through those pearly gates, itd be Little Martha the last song on the Allman Brothers Bands fantastic 1971 album Eat a Peach.
Its a delicate instrumental featuring Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on acoustic guitars, the intricate melody rumored to be delivered to Allman in a dream from Jimi Hendrix himself. Its the only song written entirely by Duane Allman that the band ever recorded and like its sister instrumental, the electric In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, the name Little Martha was taken from a grave at Rose Hill Cemetery where the band used to jam in Macon, Georgia. The reasons why I love the tune are numerous, but mainly because its a beautiful, soothing melody and represents the incredible versatility of the original Allman Brothers Band lineup, a band that could play the straight blues, dip into expansive psychedelic rock or create subtle acoustic masterpieces.
I cant say the same for too many other bands over the last 25 years, save for The Black Crowes. They share in the Allmans love of hard-drivin, hard-livin rock n roll music as well as the delicate, subtle melodies. Both have soul on top of soul, as Kurt Haas so eloquently put it.
Hopefully, St. Petes got em both on the Great iPod in the Sky.