By the time Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson sauntered out onto the Pageant stage last night, most of the capacity crowd had worked itself into a slightly tipsy (but good-natured) frenzy. (Or maybe that was just a contact high.) Robinson, who was sporting a long beard and brightly shining "poncho of many colors," was the perfect ringleader for this circus -- and he was all smiles as he, his five band mates and two back-up singers launched into "Good Morning Captain," the first track from the band's latest album, Before the Frost...Until the Freeze. The head-bobbing groove and slithering, slide-guitar work was a warm-spirited way to start the night and set the mood for a show full of soulful anthems and gospel-revival spirit.
The band was very loud from the get-go, proving that it still possesses plenty of its original hard-rock ethos, even though it's evolved over the years into a more eclectic and jam-centric band. Accordingly, the audience seemed to contain a balanced mix of die-hard fans and nostalgic revelers; for the latter group, the setlist might have been a bit of a let-down, as the band spent little time on its early material. However, "Stare It Cold," from its 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, brought lofty cheers from the packed house, and the tight grooves and soulful exuberance of new songs "Make Glad" and "Appaloosa" went over nearly as well as older hits.
The Robinson brothers and co. have become known for unpredictable setlists, and never play the same show twice. That was clear last night: Besides the new songs, the band performed three cuts from 1994's Amorica and one from 2001's Lions, and largely avoided its radio hits. The energy produced by this fresh approach to each night on the road is evident, and the Crowes showed that they definitely have the chops and instincts to pull off this type of slightly improvisational rock show.
However, the show's downfall was just its sheer volume and abundance of meandering jams, which inevitably became a little fatiguing about three-quarters of the way through the nearly two-hour set. This isn't to say that there weren't inspired moments during the rounds of solos, but much of the warmth and sound quality (as well as most of Robinson's lyrics), were often sacrificed in the wash out. The exception, though, was "Wiser Time," which burned with intensity as Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson traded solos. The thick riffage and woozy slide guitar-work gradually built steam until the chorus refrain brought the song home. It's unfortunate that more of the extended jam endings weren't this deliberate.
Another highlight, "Wounded Bird," was a beautifully uplifting way to close out the main set. Its spirited refrain of "Set your mind to fly" had the entire swaying crowd head-bobbing in unison. Besides summing up what was at times a very spiritually moving show, it showcased perfectly the band's ability to morph dynamically between slow-grooving verses and its signature, anthemic choruses.
Setlist: Good Morning Captain Stare It Cold Space Captain Make Glad Appaloosa Little Lizzie Mae Ozone Mama I Ain't Hiding Ballad in Urgency Wiser Time And The Band Played On She Gave Good Sunflower Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love) Wounded Bird