Sunday, May 21, 2006 -- Val Air Ballroom
Well, it's been awhile since the concert guy has gotten around to a concert, but it got a little slow there in the winter/spring period in central Iowa. I also have not been able to post much since I am currently in summer clinics and studying for board exams, all while cleaning my apartment and moving to a new one. So to say the least, I have been pretty busy, and will continue to be, so my posts will be few and far between in the coming months. But enough of that, and onto the Crowes!!
It was a nice Sunday night in West Des Moines when yours truly, Hank, and a few friends ventured over to the historic Val Air (which just settled a legal battle) to hear the great southern rock enigma known as the Black Crowes. There was no opening band, so at about 8:10 the Crowes began jamming out with their opening song, "Stare it Cold," the final track off their 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker. Chris even had time during the song to point out some 40 year old loser who threw ice at the stage and got him kicked out of the front. The whole crowd loved it and booed and took shots at the guy as he escorted himself out of the crowd. After playing "Seeing Things" and "Give Peace a Chance," a song that had everyone singing along, they burst into "Soul Singing," one of my favorite Crowes songs that can be found on their 6th (and latest) release, 2001's Lions. Much like the time I saw the Rolling Stones in '96, the Crowes employ 2 full-time female gospel singers to back up their songs. They never sounded better than they did in this song. After a few more good songs, they really sounded good on "My Morning Song," off of their 1992 release, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
Drinking his trademark Tecate beer (which friends tell me is terrible!), Chris continued on with great songs such as "Lay it All on Me" and "How Much For Your Wings?" It's been 16 years since the Black Crowes first burst onto the scene, and Chris' voice sounds as good as ever (then again, I was in the 3rd row -- which was remarkably calm-- so maybe I didn't have the best acoustics). I've always said the two most soulful rock vocalists of all time were Chris Robinson and Paul Rodgers, and the concert solidified that. Dressed in an orange t-shirt that read "How do you spell relief? Colombian!" with a cannibus leaf in the middle, a beard that rivals Jesus (or maybe Rasputin or ZZ Top?), and his "rRr" tattoo on his left arm (which are initials for his son Ryder Russell Robinson), Chris took the riffs Rich gave him and just blew the songs apart (in a good way). He took average songs and made them great, passionate tracks that could bring tears to the eyes even the manliest of men (including the guys in front of me who didn't look like they showerered much.)
Speaking of not showering, his backing bandmates on this tour (Steve Gorman and Sven Pippien, I think) looked more like they belonged playing for Grand Funk Railroad than the Crowes. They honestly looked like they were straight out of the 70's (or the Blue Oyster Cult SNL skit with Bruce Dickinson). And I will say Rich did look a little fatter, but maybe it's just been awhile since I've seen him in public (or maybe it was the beer messing with my eyes?). But for all the great things about the show, including seeing one of my favorite bands, there were plenty of things I did not like (not including the drunk meathead in front of me, who after repeatedly spilling beer all over himself for the whole show, decided to pick a fight with some quiet kid standing behind him). For one, there were 3 breaks in the show. One is a planned break the Crowes take midway through the show. Then there is the break for the encore. There was also a 30 minute delay while the PA system was being fixed. Now I know the PA wasn't their fault, but having to sit through 3 breaks (totalling probably close to an hour) wasn't what I had in mind. With how much Ticketmaster bends us over by upping concert prices (building fees, bathroom fees, and hell probably even breathing fees), it kind of was a downer.
Another complaint I had was something I fully expected going into the show, but hoped wouldn't occur. The Black Crowes are well-known for playing odd set lists and changing them nightly. I kind of figured they would be a band that didn't play their hits, and I was right. There was no "Remedy" or "Stop Kickin' My Heart Around." Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and "She talks to Angels" also didn't make the cut. Same result for "Twice as Hard." They did play "Jealous Again," but I swear they only played it as a consolation to the fans for having to wait 30+ minutes during the technical delay. It was a great song out of the "break," and it probably had the crowd as excited as they were all night, but even then, the song was partially ruined when Chris let Rich sing half of it! Now I like Rich Robinson and I think he's a great musician, but he is a terrible singer! And considering it was on one of the only hits they played, it was disappointing to have to hear him sing a lot of that song. It was funny, however, to watch Chris and Rich attempt to interact. It appears to me (and this could be way off) that Chris wants to bury the hatchet with their past troubles, but Rich wants no part of it. The reason I say this is I would always see Chris walk over by Rich, jam with him, look him in the eyes, and it always seemed Rich had sort of a cold response to his gestures -- only looking at him when he had to and putting up with Chris next to him, but never enjoying it. But that's just what I thought I saw, and nothing further.
After the Crowes came out of their final break (the planned encore), they played a killer version of "Space Captain," which was one of the best songs of the night. They took their bows to end the show, but with the crowd going crazy and chanting "one more song!" the Crowes came back with a final song, "Oh Well," a song I'm not sure I've heard before and have no idea where it's from (and only know the title because I asked somebody else). They left to a raucous ovation, one they richly deserved, regardless of my lamentations! One of my friends told me that when they came through Des Moines with Tom Petty last July, they sounded rusty and disorganized. Even though I was not at that one, I can say they did sound really good and cohesive. Are the Crowes coming out with a new record? Only Rich and Chris know that. But I have heard news they have worked on new tracks (at least for Chris and Rich's acousic project, "Brothers of A Feather.") Hopefully in the near future they can quench the thirst of their patient fans with some new work. We can only hope Chris and Rich can stay civil long enough to bring out more great music!
Chris didn't talk very much, but here is the only memorable quote of the night I got (and I have no idea what it means!):
"We in no way condone spleunking or the use of male-Chris Robinson
Coming Soon (hopefully): Jagermeister Music Tour f/ Staind, Three Days Grace, and Hurt and Buckcherry's new CD Fifteen music review