The Black Crowes, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA – 4/12
It’s a serious challenge for a band to stay together on the road for over twenty years. Robbie Robertson’s words on touring from The Last Waltz – “It’s a goddamn impossible way of life” – continue to ring true all these years later, as life on the road is a breeding ground for unhealthy living habits and inter-band tension. The Black Crowes have endured their fair share of both over their 24 years together, yet are thriving now having just returned from a two year hiatus. Though their recent break was by all accounts amicable and planned, they nevertheless returned with a new lineup, as Jackie Greene stepped in to replace Luther Dickinson on lead guitar. Whether trading bluesy riffs and solos with Rich Robinson or lending mandolin to a gorgeous reworking of “She Talks To Angels,” Greene fit in so well that it was easy to forget the band has been playing together for less than two weeks.
They kicked the night off with a punchy “My Morning Song” and mixed a heavy dose of classic older material with more recent originals and both familiar and new covers. The band nodded to English classic rockers Traffic twice early in the set – first for a lively take on “Feelin’ Alright” which they’ve played for years, and then for “Medicated Goo,” a cover first performed on this tour. “Medicated Goo” was an early highlight as Jackie and Rich shredded away on guitar, with Jackie showing that he’s plenty qualified to fill Dickinson’s shoes. Whereas Dickinson was very much a true lead guitar player, Greene is more like Rich Robinson – having frequently switched between rhythm and lead during his stints in Phil Lesh & Friends. The two guitarists traded solos equally throughout the night, giving the songs a fresher sound than what one dominant lead player can provide.
Nowhere was that more apparent than on “Wiser Time,” as they stretched the song past the 15-minute mark. Keyboardist Adam McDougall jammed away with a colorful electric piano solo before Jackie and Rich took their respective turns – delivering solos that mixed moody experimental noise with a climax full of lightning fast shredding as Chris Robinson triumphantly hurtled into one final chorus. After the intense jamming of “Wiser Time,” The Black Crowes took a turn towards the earthy and showed off their acoustic side. “She Talks To Angels,” one of their biggest hits, felt totally revitalized with Jackie Greene on mandolin, while “Whoa Mule” found Greene picking up a banjo and drummer Steve Gorman moving to center stage to play tabla as rustic Americana and world music wonderfully collided.
The Black Crowes returned to their bluesy jam comfort zone with “Thorn In My Pride,” nearly rivaling the musical fireworks of “Wiser Time.” They kicked into high gear behind Chris’ wailing harmonica before Greene took off racing with a solo and Chris howled his way through a soulful rap. The set came to a close after a run through a few greatest hits, though they freshened up “Hard To Handle” by throwing in a cover of Joe South’s “Hush” (made famous by Deep Purple) before slamming back into the chorus of “Hard To Handle.”
Returning for an encore, gorgeous country soul ballad “Descending” was a welcome treat. But they weren’t quite wrapped up yet, diving into a magnificent cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nuthin’.” Replacing the Velvet Underground’s garage rock edge with a country sweetness, the Robinson brothers and Greene teamed up for beautiful harmonies on the chorus, while the guitarists more than adequately maneuvered their way through the song’s winding solos. Finally ending the night with a rootsy, sing-along cover of traditional “Boomer’s Story,” The Black Crowes proved that their new lineup hasn’t missed a beat and that they still deliver 2+ hours of nonstop rock and roll better than anyone.