Black Crowes, Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton, NH – 10/24
Last year at the Ryman – photo by Brad Hodge
The Black Crowes paid tribute to both their hard-driving pub rock side and mellower, jammier side as the “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour stopped at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. The show did not feature an acoustic set, reportedly because the Crowes thought the small, rectangular room with a low ceiling would not be conducive to one, but for two hours the band brought electrified blues- and gospel-flavored rock to an appreciative crowd.
The Crowes strutted on stage shortly after 8 PM and delivered a one-two-three cock-rocking punch of “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” “Jealous Again,” and “Hotel Illness.” Although Luther Dickinson punctuated “Illness” with frenetic slide playing, these songs were played in a straight-ahead, no-jam style that would have fit in during the Crowes’ groundbreaking 1992 “High As The Moon” tour.
Just when it appeared the Crowes were going to take the crowd through a time warp to the hard-rocking early ‘90s for the remainder of the evening, they then slowed the pace down with a cover of the Dylan chestnut “Girl From the North Country,” featuring Rich Robinson on lead vocals. Rich’s voice isn’t as strong as his big brother’s but has an authentically world-weary tone that suited the song well, and Dickinson lent some bite to the rootsier number with another slide solo.
Having brought down the extremely high energy level created by the first burst of songs, the Crowes delivered a slew of four extended jams – “Appaloosa,” “Another Roadside Tragedy,” “Wiser Time” and a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nuthin’.” Adam MacDougall’s psychedelic keyboard work and Dickinson’s extended slide solo lent “Roadside” a dreamy quality, while the Crowes further amped up the blues quotient of “Nuthin’,” a rare bluesy number from the very non-blues-oriented VU. Rich Robinson also sang this cover, and his mournful voice complemented the band’s downbeat approach to it.
The Crowes have noticeably increased their jamming since returning from their first hiatus in 2005, and like any improvisational band they sometimes stray into bloated, aimless noodling. But on this night, the jams were focused and had direction, due in no small part to Dickinson, who with his superb musicianship and masterful slide playing appears to be the Crowes’ answer to Mick Taylor.
In addition, drummer Steve Gorman kept a steady pulsing beat throughout the show, helping keep the jams on the rails and adding a refreshing edge to even the slowest numbers. Gorman is the Crowes’ unsung hero with his unflashy but rhythmically perfect drumming. If Dickinson is their Taylor then perhaps he serves as their Charlie Watts. In addition, guest percussionist Joe Magistro deftly slid samba and funk rhythms underneath it all to liven up the sound.
Other highlights included a taut, focused “Remedy” (no extended keyboard jam this time), a crowd singalong on perpetual fan favorite “She Talks To Angels,” a driving version of “My Morning Song” that broke into the gospel arrangement from Croweology mid-song before returning to the more familiar “Southern Harmony” arrangement, and an encore-closing “Let’s Go Get Stoned” that may have been an unofficial invitation to join the band backstage.
The only negative aspect to this performance was a muddy sound mix at the beginning that noticeably improved as the night went on. Sound barriers between the guitarists, bassist and lead vocalist helped sonically distinguish each musician’s contribution even before the mix problems were rectified.
In fact, the whole vibe of the show was so positive that even notoriously acerbic lead singer Chris Robinson was in a visibly good mood, wearing a wide grin for much of the evening and limiting his on-stage patter to, “Welcome to my déjà vu…OUR déjà vu.” He did not engage in any of his legendary on-stage rants against security, venue management or the audience.
As they prepare to head into another indefinite hiatus with rumors of a permanent split, the Black Crowes are playing as well as they have at any point in the last 20 years. When all cylinders are firing they stack up against any live band in the business, and they had their engine purring at Hampton Beach. If this is truly it, they are going out on top, but hopefully the ongoing drama that is the Black Crowes will feature a third act.