In what might have been their final Fillmore stomp, the Black Crowes on Sunday plowed through a three-hour, 21-song travelogue of their 20-year history. And despite the long, hard haul since 1990’s seminal “Shake Your Moneymaker,” the band’s backbone, brothers Chris and Rich Robinson remain on point with a dedicated affection for that original honky tonk jam they tapped so many moons ago.
Chris can still howl like no other, dramatically draping his stickman frame over the mic stand or popping his trademark arched back strut. Rich methodically explores, striking heavy and sometimes predictable progressions through his band’s rattling repertoire. Now three years on board the ever-listing Brothers Robinson ship, guitarist Luther Dickinson — a shining jewel in the jam world — nimbly dances around his not-always-brotherly colleagues, sprinkling delicious nuggets of aural goodness atop their flourishing tableaus.
Sunday’s offering was pure Crowes, an even split of acoustic and electric that delved into the Georgia band’s beginnings and, quite possibly, its end. Calling it the “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys Tour,” Team Robinson is calling this 50-stop jaunt a farewell tour. Or at least the last before a “lengthy hiatus.” Either way, breakups and breaks are not uncommon in the band’s history.
Still, Sunday had a sort of nostalgic feel, not void of farewell-ish undertones. Chris began the acoustic set with a noisy harmonica and some semi-adept strumming that did little more than drown the subtle interplay between Rich and Dickinson. But by the time the band reached the mid-set “Ballad in Urgency” and “Wiser Time,” Chris was focused on singing, giving rise to not just Rich and Dickson, but keyboardist Adam Mac Dougall and drummer Steve Gorman, the latter two forging an intimate chat during “Wiser.”
The cover of Gram Parson’s “She” found the band reaching an apex, with its most cohesive moments in the acoustic set. Such a pretty tune and Chris brings a respectful touch to Parson’s delicate harmonies. The guitar work fired up to 11 with “My Morning Song” and “She Talks to Angels,” with Dickinson culling a surprising depth with his glass fingered slide. (Yeah that’s right, the acoustic set saw both Dickinson and Rich occasionally playing hardbodied electric guitars. So really it was more of a simply seated set, with both guitarists perched on stools.)
Set two fanned the embers of the first set to flames. Employing a pair of gilded, soul-drenched back-up singers, the second set opener “Remedy” blasted through the Fillmore fog and greased what would become a 90-minute groove. Dickinson virtually throttled the room with his work on the overplayed “Jealous Again.” His in-the-moment jamming — versus Rich’s more cautiously scripted, syrupy blues — channeled the room’s energy in “Thorn’s Progress / Thorn in My Pride.” Rich took control of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh, Sweet Nuthin’,” finding his inner Lou Reed, a guitarist who maybe serves as an inspiration to Rich’s coaxing riffs. The band’s 2007 “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” gave Chris room to strut some range, with a Sly Stone-esque chant that serves as one of his more divergent approaches.
Veering off the tried-and-true path is not typical for the Crowes, who have long adhered to the countrified fusion of blues and rock that has defined their two- decade history. The band’s latest, the unfortunately named “Croweology,” an all-acoustic double album with 20 tunes, does not deviate from the band’s formula. Rarely has any of their albums displayed a wide musical range. Which is cool. We don’t need a Crowes Christmas album. Some things are fine just the way they’ve always been.
That’s not to suggest the band isn’t fond of surprises, which come in the form of covers. While known to bust out expected covers that match their sound (like “Sugaree,” “The Weight” or “Got To Get Better in an Little While,”) Sunday’s show saw a few unique gifts, culminating in the second encore rendition of the Flying Burrito Brother’s extra spicy “Hot Burrito #2.”
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Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.