Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Black Crowes

American Music Festival
5th Street Stage
Virginia Beach, VA
September 6th, 2009

The Black Crowes headlined the American Music Festival in Virginia Beach on Sunday night, bringing their soulful blend of gospel infused blues and straight forward rock & roll to the massive, beachfront 5th Street Stage. Lead vocalist Chris Robinson, sporting a lengthy beard and looking as shaggy as ever, wasted no time getting down to business when he led the band into “Good Morning Captain”, the first song from the Crowes’ latest offering, “Before the Frost…”. At first, you could forgive Chris and brother/guitarist Rich Robinson for their lack of crowd interaction as the band attempted to squeeze as much as possible into their allotted two hour set time (according to the festival's schedule anyway). For a band accustomed to spending a 3rd of that time jamming on one song, this was no small feat.

If you’re familiar with the Black Crowes, you know that their set lists change from show to show, so you never know what you’re going to get. They’re just as likely to break into an obscure (to the casual fan) track like “Nebakanezer” off their 1996 album “Three Snakes and One Charm” as to play their most well known hit, “Hard to Handle”. Tonight, the Crowes raced through favorites like “Soul Singing”, “Wiser Time”, “Jealous Again” and “Remedy”, while leaving plenty of room in their set for cuts off their new album like “Appaloosa” and “I Ain’t Hiding”. The band even found time for Rich and somewhat new guitarist (as of 2007) Luther Dickinson (also the vocalist/guitarist of the North Mississippi Allstars) to show off their unbelievable chops during an extended jam session on “Poor Elijah – Tribute to Johnson”. Likewise, drummer and only original member outside the brothers Robinson, Steve Gorman gave the rest of the band a breather by pounding his way through an impressive solo. The rest of the Crowes ever changing lineup, currently rounded out by bassist Sven Pipien, keyboardist Adam MacDougall and a duo of unbelievable sounding gospel singers, were equally impressive.

The set was all over too soon though and as great as the Crowes sounded, the Virginia Beach crowd (myself included) was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied, as was evident from the smattering of boos that could be heard when the band failed to return to the stage for an encore. When the house lights came up after the final notes of “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love)”, it was like a rude awakening for the crowd who were anticipating a much longer set. Whether it was a Virginia Beach curfew to blame is unclear, but for a band who typically play sets that are nearly double the length of this one, the early ending was a real disappointment. The real shame is that you got the impression that the Black Crowes were just getting warmed up.

Having seen this band multiple times in the past, I know that they are typically much more interactive with their audience. This set reeked of a “business trip” mentality for the boys from Atlanta...a get in and get out type of affair. The enthusiastic crowd deserved at least a “thanks for coming out”, but had to settle for a subtle wave goodbye from Chris Robinson as he left the stage (after an hour and a half). Don’t get me wrong, I love the Crowes and will certainly go see them again, but perhaps they would do well to remember who pays their bills.

Set list:
Good Morning Captain
Soul Singing
Wiser Time
I Ain't Hiding
Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution
Poor Elijah - Tribute To Johnson
Thorn In My Pride
Jealous Again
Thick N' Thin
Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)

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