Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Black Crowes

Music, Gig, live at Shepherds Bush Empire

I first saw The Black Crowes live the very first time they played in the UK. This was many centuries ago and I have seen them play every time they make it over here. This was their swansong tour before they head off on a ‘prolonged hiatus’…whatever that means, presumably they’ll be retiring until the urge to tour again hits them.

I suppose because this was their ‘goodbye’ gig I was expecting something different to what I’ve seen before.

Opting to play two sets rather than having a support act, and let’s be fair, they have enough material to play all night, they strutted on stage bang on time at 8pm sharp. Chris Robinson has amazingly maintained that stick-insect thin frame of his and moves around the stage like a peacock giving us the full-on feathers treatment. This is his crowd, and he just loves it.

 They opened with Remedy, perhaps my all time fave of theirs, and what a job they did with it. A romping number that really gets let out of the cage when they perform it live. Next up came Hotel Illness, another Crowes stonker, again performed with the polished pomp that comes from a band in their prime who have done this thousands and thousands of times before.

If the gig had ended after the opening two tracks I would have declared it a triumph. It didn’t.

 Now I expect virtually all hardened Crowes fans to disagree with me here, but I’m afraid for me the band are let down by two things...

Firstly, I just feel that most of the numbers from the last decade fall short of the standards from the first four albums. Some fans will claim it is their best work, for me the country influence is just too strong. The Crowes are at their best when they stick with their special brand of Rock n Roll with a perceptible nod to Blues n Soul. So when they started to bombard their set with frequent sliding guitars and country motifs I felt a little let down.

 The second problem I have with them live is the extended guitar solos that managed to find themselves onto most numbers. I love a good guitar solo. I love a band that revels in playing live and gets lost within itself irrespective of whether the audience is there or not. But what happened last night was this – the guitar solos dominated so many of the numbers that actually they played about half as many songs as they could have done. It was the sheer length of the solos I struggled with. One of them was pushing 8 minutes, before being handed over to the next guitarist to carry on! If that was just for one or two numbers, fair do’s, but every track. Too much I’m afraid. Yes, I would sacrifice many of these guitar solos if it had meant I could hear Sting Me and She Gave Good Sunflower and Thick n Thin, I could go on!

 The plusses of seeing the Crowes live are always apparent. Chris Robinson is a brilliant performer with a stonking live voice. The band are so so tight – always bringing it back to the starting track after the aforementioned month-long solos. It is a delight to watch the telepathy that comes from a band who have been together so long their kids are now running the country. The keys last night were astonishingly good. The drummer I always love to watch live as he is technically as good as I’ve seen anywhere and clearly loves playing these tracks.

 I am going to miss the Crowes live. I just wish they would gig again and I could compile the set list. There are songs I love that I wanted to hear and I couldn’t. It was a relief they found the space amongst the guitar wails to add in She Talks To Angels and Jealous Again otherwise I’d have been really gutted!

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