Though the Black Crowes made their fans wait (excessively long) before coming onstage Wednesday night at the Ogden Theatre (they came on an hour late), they made it worthwhile, delivering a 100-minute set long on fiery rock and roll, gospel-like harmonies, some extended jams and truly transcendent moments.
Some lazy critics like to tag the Crowes with the “Southern Rock” label, but what is that exactly? The band hails from Georgia, true, but their sound owes as much to British blues rock like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, as well as some of the jam sounds of jam band godfathers Grateful Dead, as it does to Southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, or the Outlaws.
Fans know what to expect from a Crowes’ show, and frontman Chris Robinson, one of the few pure lead vocalists in rock today, knows how to play to their expectations. “Good evening, mile high motherfuckers,” he shouted to a roar early in the set. Later, he tipped a nod to the passage of Amendment 64, saying, “How does it feel to be in the only free state? Some motherfuckers in Ohio are jealous of you. Don’t tell anyone, but California is jealous too!”
Of course, guitarists Rich Robinson and Jackie Greene know how to play to the crowd too, opening with sultry slide on “Under a Mountain.” Greene followed with a furious pyrotechnic solo on “Nebakanezer.”
Chris Robinson and Greene have both been playing in Grateful Dead circles of late, as the two did a series of acoustic guitar shows with Dead guitarist/singer Bob Weir. Greene also did a stint in Phil and Friends with Dead bassist Phil Lesh, including stops at the 1stBank Center last year. Those stints seemed to have rubbed off on the two, as there was an almost Dead-esque sensibility on an extended intro to “Wiser Time,” with Greene and Rich Robinson alternating solos, as Greene spun Garcia-like spiraling runs over Robinson’s dirtier, grittier Stones-line playing. A long mid-song jam started with keyboardist Aaron MacDougall exploring whimsical organ lines that built into a furious series of funky-sounding chords before turning it over to Greene for a long exploratory solo that ended with Rich Robinson jumping in to turn it into an almost “Freebird-like” jam that was one of the highlights of the night.
The Crowes even explored some acoustic-style playing on “Whoa Mule,” with Greene on mandolin and Rich Robinson on acoustic guitar, while Chris Robinson added harmonica and drummer Steve Gorman came to the front of the stage to play a single drum.
The Black Crowes ended their set with a double dip into their early hits, first on a furious “Remedy” on which Chris Robinson’s vocals were enhanced with some lush delay effects, and then on the set closing “Hard to Handle->Hush->Hard to Handle,” with the band transitioning seamlessly mid-jam into the Deep Purple classic.
As the band launched into its second encore, a beautiful rendition of the Little Feat classic “Willin’,” I was very happy that I’d stayed at the beginning of the night through the long delay before the show started, as the harmonies and tender guitar solos reached deep into that place that music can touch, bypassing your conscious thought process and hitting all the right emotional buttons. I can’t wait till the Crowes release this show for download from their website so I can listen to it all over again.
Under a Mountain, Nebakanezer, Cypress Tree, No Use Lying, Nonfiction, Paint an 8, Powerman, Ballad in Urgency, Wiser Time, Welcome to the Goodtimes, Whoa Mule, Remedy, Hard to Handle ->Hush-> Hard to Handle, E: Feathers, Willin’
Kit Chalberg is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.