When the Black Crowes first announced their "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys" tour way back in April of 2010, my reaction was mixed. The Crowes were finally touring with planned and publicly announced two set shows, an acoustic set followed by an electric set that were set to last three hours, and that was cause for a celebration. The only downside...it was being billed as their last tour before an indefinite hiatus. The band that I have grown to know and love over the past five years would be gone for who knows how long in a mere eight months. It was at that moment that I made it a priority to attend as many shows as my wallet would allow. The final number was three: November 5 and 6 at the Nokia Theater in New York, NY (shows 4 and 5 of a 5 show run at that venue) and November 13 at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. All three were billed as two set shows.
I bought my tickets for the Nokia Theater shows and shoved the occasion to the back of my mind until a few weeks ago, when I secured my travel plans and it really began to sink in that I was about to see the final two nights the Black Crowes would play in New York City for what could be years. November 5th finally came, and my day started at school in Delaware. I went to my first two classes at 9AM and 10AM in a daze, then tried my hardest to keep my mind off the show in order to take an exam in my third class at 12:20. Once that exam was over, I shut my mind off and psyched myself up for what was to come later that night. My mom picked me up outside of my classroom about 20 minutes after my exam ended and off we went. We hit some traffic but ended up making it back to my town at about 3:30, and I was on a bus into NYC at about a quarter to 4. Heavy traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel turned a 40 minute trip into an hour and 15 minutes, but with the theater two blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, arriving at 5 o'clock was not such a big deal. I met up with Mike Cooper (Marc Ford on the Amorica2 boards) and we got a good spot in line just a little after 5. The next two hours flew by thanks to conversations about anything and everything related to music and the Black Crowes with Mike and the two guys who we met in line next to us- Ronnie and Ken. 7 o'clock rolled around and the doors opened and once inside I decided that instead of running down front and parking myself right in front of Rich's amps, I would hang back on the second level behind the main floor and get myself a spot overlooking the crowd with a great spot of the stage (the theater had a main floor, a raised floor section behind that and seating behind the second section). I set up camp in line with Chris' mic stand leaning on the rail of the second section and waited. Ken from the line outside liked the idea of getting a spot overlooking the crowd, so he joined Mike and I on the rail and once again, we were kept occupied for the hour and a half until showtime with setlist predictions and wishlists. It was 8:20 and the incense was out. 8:30 and the lights went down...
- ACOUSTIC SET - (On: 8:32PM)
(As has been the case for the past few weeks, Rich was on stage right and Luther stage left, which to my knowledge is the first time in twenty years that young Richard has occupied that side of the stage.)
GOOD FRIDAY- Mike called this one before the show, so props to him. This song has become so spacey in recent years; it's as close to Pink Floyd's Breathe as it has ever been, and I'm certainly not complaining. Great start to a Friday night show.
BETTER WHEN YOU'RE NOT ALONE- This song is horribly underplayed so I was very excited to see it show up so early in a set. It sounded fantastic.
NO EXPECTATIONS- Chris picked up his acoustic guitar, Luther's tech set up a lap steel that is mounted on a stand in front of him, then Chris started slowly playing some chords by himself in a manner that sounded vaguely familiar. "I know this..." I thought, and had a sneaking suspicion that it was No Expectation by The Stones, but it couldn't be...they had never played that as a full band, right? Well, before Rich started playing the familiar slide part that would have given it away instantly, Chris' intro was a complete run through of the chords, and once he hit the D chord at the end of the progression, my suspicion was confirmed. Rich started the slide part, Luther played swells on lap steel. Adam added gentle flourishes on keys. No Expectations. Words cannot describe how amazing the entire band sounded on this song. I was speechless. This was worth the price of admission alone, and we were only three songs in.
OH JOSEPHINE- Luther kept the lap steel out in front of him for this one. This is a great ballad and it did not disappoint at this show. The outro was fantastic as usual.
THORN IN MY PRIDE- Rich was handed a guitar with a capo at the 4th fret and since Sometimes Salvation is not a likely candidate for an acoustic set, the only song that could be up next was Thorn. No matter how overplayed this is, and no matter how sick I am of the jam that splits the song in two, once that verse riff starts none of that matters. This is still one of the best songs the Crowes have ever written. Like I said, I can do without the jam, but I can't stop them from playing it.
LOCUST STREET- Luther on mandolin. Standard take here, nothing too special. Not bad, not great.
DARLING OF THE UNDERGROUND PRESS- Rich's next guitar was capoed at the 2nd fret, so my mind went straight to Darling of the Underground Press, but then Luther was handed an electric mandolin which made me question that. Well, Darling it was and I could not be happier. I LOVE this song, great lyrics and man what a groove! The mandolin added an interesting element to a what is normally a swampy blues kinda thing, but that didn't matter much. Awesome version.
DRIVIN' WHEEL- This is just a beautiful song any way you look at it and the Crowes definitely do it justice. Chris on guitar.
JEALOUS AGAIN- I'm pretty sick of this one, but I'd rather hear it acoustic then have it waste space in the electric set. That said, I absolutely love the lines in the verses that Rich sings (not on the album, live only) for whatever reason. It's just such a minor touch to the song but it makes a difference to me. In a similar manner, this year the band has added the original album vocals during the outro: "I'm jealous with a restless heart" for the first time ever to my knowledge. That's another cool little touch that might not make much of a difference to 95% of the people who hear the song live, but I like it.
HOTEL ILLNESS- Steve's tech brought out the big marching band bass drum, so that narrowed down what could be next to four songs. When Sven picked up an acoustic guitar(!) I knew it was going to be Hotel Illness. I love the Croweology take on this song, which is what has been played on this entire tour and it was even more fun live then it is on the album. Plus, any time you get to spend four minutes watching Steve Gorman flail around on stage and beat the living crap out of a bass drum is time well spent.
WISER TIME- I have been openly critical of this song for the past three years. I still absolutely do not like what Adam and Luther have to offer to this song during the solo section and I can't believe the Brothers Robinson have let it become so bloated and uninteresting. That said, the verses and choruses are still reason enough to enjoy this song live. Chris and Rich harmonize it PERFECTLY and it's just a surreal feeling hearing everything click into place like that. Then the solo section comes along and for a good eight minutes I don't know what to do with myself. At this show, however, I decided to tune Adam and Luther out completely and focus on Mr. Sven Pipien. Oh my God can that man groove. His talents and contributions to the sound of this band are grossly underrated, and it was a blast to watch him do his thing totally unrestrained for nearly nearly 10 minutes. Then Rich came in for his solo and things started to make sense again. A few minutes later, Luther joined for the dueling guitars solo right before the final chorus and the song was brought to the intensity level that it should have kept throughout the entire solo section. The final chorus was huge. Set break. (Off: 10:01 PM)
- ELECTRIC SET - (On: 10:17PM)
(ONLY) HALFWAY TO EVERYWHERE- Mike called this one as well, so he was two for two. I think this is one of the best openers in the band's catalog; it's funky, in your face, and loud and this version was no exception. This version was absolutely nothing short of SMOKING. There is no possible way that you can't move your body to this song. The jam at the end was fire. Possibly a sign of things to come?
COSMIC FRIEND- Rich had his Telecaster Custom in open F, so I was really hoping for Paint An 8 or even better Peace Anyway, but instead we got this little nugget from Lions. I've never really liked this song but I have to say, after the intro it freaking rocked.
WEE WHO SEE THE DEEP- This song is not my favorite from Warpaint and not my least favorite either, but it continued with the early theme of the electric set which was pure and simply: ROCK. Triple SG attack, with Chris playing an SG that I've never seen before with a custom paint job. After the ROCK, the usual jam at the end of this song shifted into the second theme of the electric show: space. This led to...
FEARLESS- During the Wee Who See The Deep jam I saw Rich's tech preparing his Danelectro 12-string and Luther's tech readying the lap steel, so I thought "nice, Under A Mountain could be next!" I could not have been more wrong. When that first chord rang out in Fearless, I nearly jumped out of my skin. If you're reading this right now, you know I am a Pink Floyd nut so to hear my favorite band covering a great song by my second favorite band was unreal. I never thought I would hear the Crowes do Fearless, even after the momentary revival in Atlantic City the week before. Rich sang lead vocals as usual, and he sounded strong.
MOVIN' ON DOWN THE LINE- I think this is the strongest song on Warpaint so I love hearing it live, the extended intro just builds up so well to the main song. Sven was having some amp trouble during the intro, which seemed to last through most of the first verse and chorus and it got to the point where he couldn't continue, so when the first chorus ended the band melted back into the intro like they had written that way in order to give Sven a chance to fix things. His tech removed one of his cabinets and after a quick nod to Steve and Rich, the launched into the second verse like nothing had ever happened. Chris later remarked "that was like, the coolest technical difficulty ever!"
TITLE SONG- Okay. I'm going to preface this by saying that shortly after I got in line for this show at 5PM and got into a discussion about what might be in store for us tonight, I said "I'm feeling a Title Song tonight, it's been a while." Mike Cooper can confirm this. Title Song is without question one of the best unreleased songs this band has, if not the best. When you factor in the rest of the song catalog, I'd still put it top 15, and that's a huge statement considering the sheer volume of songs they've written over the years. As I listened to this song countless times over the years, the combination of pure beauty and raw epic power that this tune possesses helped embed it in my mind and put it right at the top of my "songs I want to hear live" list. When Rich was handed a white SG in standard tuning on Friday night, he played one note to check his levels. That note set off an alarm in my mind...it was the first note of his intro solo in Title Song. As we waited for what was next, Adam shifted over to his organ and might have hit a note or two to check his sound. I leaned over to Mike and went "This is it. TITLE SONG. RIGHT NOW. HERE WE GO" A few seconds later, Adam hit that opening chord and I was completely overcome with all kinds of emotion due to the fact that holy shit, they were about to play Title Song. Many people might have a problem with this lineup doing classic songs like this one, but I could not care less. They absolutely nailed it. This was without any doubt in my mind one of the greatest moments I've ever witnessed at a show. 9 minutes of pure bliss.
HIGH HEAD BLUES- Luther picked up his black Strat and strummed a quick chord that I identified as the first chord of High Head Blues, so I figured this was next. This is a great song from Amorica that I think this current lineup plays very well, and it will always be a welcome addition to any show I attend. The choruses were exaggerated and heavy as hell, just like they should be. I used to question the jam out of this song live but now that I've seen it twice I've grown to like it.
SOMETIMES SALVATION- Rich was handed his ES-335 with a capo at the fourth fret, and since Thorn In My Pride was already played during the acoustic set, I emphatically made everyone around me aware that Sometimes Salvation was next. This is one of the two album tracks that has eluded me at shows over the years that I really, really wanted to see (the other is One Mirror Too Many), so I was psyched to hear Rich, Steve and Sven tear into that opening riff. Luther's solo was good but not great. I think he has to slow it down a bit, it sounds like he's trying to do too much. The studio Salvation solo is the epitome of "less is more" in music, and Luther still hasn't quite grasped that if you ask me. Regardless, this version still rocked. Hard.
GOODBYE DAUGHTERS OF THE REVOLUTION- Nothing too special or different here, but I have no problem with that. This is a strong, upbeat song that I've seen a few times now and it has never failed to keep the people happy, myself included.
REMEDY- Once again, another song that I've seen many times but have no problem with. Let's face it...this is a hell of a song, and it brought the house down to close the set. (Off: 11:34PM)
- ENCORE - (On: 11:38PM)
THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN- When the band walked off the stage for the encore break, I thought to myself that I honestly could not care what they came back and played for an encore. She Talks To Angels/Thick 'N' Thin? Fine. The electric set would more then make up for it. After a few minutes Chris walked back out on stage with an acoustic guitar and the rest of the band picked up their instruments. Adam hit a really sour note which had me completely baffled for a few seconds, until he walked it up to the familiar opening of none other than The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band. The Crowes do this one justice and the crowd was loving it. It seemed like everyone in the room sang the chorus together, band included.
WILLIN'- Once again, while we were in line before the show and talking about predictions, I called a Willin' encore. Rich was handed a Gretsch in open G so I turned to Mike and said "come on now, let's get Willin' to close it!" Willin' it was. This is classic, classic Little Feat song that the Crowes play so well it might as well be considered a part of their catalog. Feat might still do it better, but the Crowes come damn close. As with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, everyone in the crowd and on stage joined in to sing the chorus together, and it was really a sight to see. I could not think of a better way to end such a great night of music then this song, and as the song drew to a close, I stood in my spot directly in the center of the room and just took it all in. This was one of the most anticipated shows I've ever attended, and they delivered exactly the kind of show I was hoping for. I could not be happier. (Off: 11:50PM)
I said a quick goodbye to my friends on the rail as we planned to hit the same spots tomorrow night for the finale and started heading over to the Port Authority to catch a bus. I stopped on 43rd and 8th for a dirty water dog (that's a NYC street vendor hot dog to all you out-of-towners) and a bottle of water, took a seat by the gate for the bus I needed and began to process what I had just seen. In the 20 minutes or so I waited for my bus to start loading, I came to the conclusion that the show I had just attended was one of the best I had ever seen. The setlist (which included eight songs I had never seen live before), the performance, the vibe, the people...it was all just as perfect as I could have asked for. The bus I took home ended up sitting in traffic for 45 minutes on the NJ Turnpike (at 1 AM...), considering whoever is in charge of construction decided it would be a great idea to shut down three out of the four lanes on the most congested highway in New Jersey, but it didn't matter much. I spent the ride reliving the three hours of amazing music that I just had the pleasure of hearing and preparing myself mentally for the finale Saturday night.