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The Black Crowes, Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH- 5/14

Watching the Black Crowes fall from grace, and subsequent return, has been a long and somewhat painful process. It's an experience similar to watching your favorite baseball team lose their star players just after winning the World Series. You continue to root for the team, but it's out of obligation or nostalgia rather than any great appreciation of their current performance.

The Black Crowes left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans after taking a musical 180 degree turn following their 1997 tour. Lead guitarist Marc Ford was fired, and bassist Johny Colt left the band days later. What followed was a band that seemed to continually alienate even their most loyal fans with poppy, radio friendly songs and co-headlining tours with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Oasis. The band continued with this approach until their last show of 2001, at which time drummer Steve Gorman officially quit the band, and it was decided that the Crowes would enter a state of "indefinite hiatus."

The hiatus lasted for three and a half years. During that time, singer Chris Robinson and his guitar playing brother Rich would each try their luck at a solo career. While both ventures served as a welcomed distraction, many fans were still holding out hope that the Crowes would someday reunite as a rejuvenated band. That wish came true in March of 2005. The Black Crowes returned to the stage with seven sold out nights at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. To the suprise and delight of their fans, ex Crowe guitarist Marc Ford was officially back in the band. As was bassist Sven Pippien, keyboardist Ed Harsch, and of course brothers Chris and Rich Robinson. Also appearing was newcomer Bill Dobrow on the drums. Dobrow would last a grand total of 23 shows before original drummer Steve Gorman would make a suprise return in his hometown of Atlanta, taking over behind the kit.

With all the pieces recently returned to their proper place, the Black Crowes were ready to tear the roof off of the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. The crowd that descended upon this New England beach town was expecting a phenomenal performance, and the band did not disappoint.

The show started with the thunderous guitar riff of "Virtue and Vice." Vocally, this may be one of singer Chris Robinson’s most challenging songs to sing. Typically used as a set closer during the 2000 tour, "Virtue" is better suited in the opening slot. Robinson’s voice was fresh and up for the task, as he hit high notes once thought possible only in the studio. The following song, "Go Faster" was the only low point of the night. An uninspired track on the >By Your Side album that translates even worse in the live setting. Why the Crowes continue to use this in their live shows appeared to be a mystery to most everyone in attendance.

Fortunately, the band immediately redeemed themselves with a ten minute jam that segued into "Black Moon Creeping." This set the mood for the rest of the night, as the band would find themselves extending their songs with improvisational jams that rose like tidal waves, only to come crashing down on the audience and flow seamlessly back into the song. Other highlights included the epic transition between "Ballad in Urgency" and "Wiser Time," and a 22 minute version of "Thorn in My Pride." Steve Gorman delighted the audience with his trademark drum solo during "Thorn," a task that his temporary replacement Bill Dobrow never seemed quite comfortable emulating.

Over the course of the evening, the band would also dig deep into their favorite artists’ catalog to find the perfect cover song. Not content with replaying instantly recognizable hits, the Crowes covered relative obscurities like Bob Dylan’s "Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)," The Rolling Stones’ "Torn & Frayed," and Joe Cocker’s "Space Captain." The latter may have been the highlight of the evening. As if sensing the significance of the song’s lyrics, the audience was more than happy to sing along with the band; "We’ve got to get it together, it’s getting better and better."

The Black Crowes are not even two full months into their reunion tour, but so far the "Space Captain" lyrics have proven to be true. If this trend continues, there is no telling what type of impact the Crowes will make when they play in front of 90,000 music fans at Bonnaroo this June.

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