Review: Black Crowes, Chicago, 12/5/08

Full disclosure here, I listened to all of one song from the Black Crowes’ new album, Warpaint (released on their own Silver Arrow Records), before attending their show at the Riviera in Chicago. So, going into the show, I didn’t know what to expect. Apparently the album was panned by Maxim – before they ever listened to it – and the show didn’t sell out, so that had me even more worried. But, I’ve been a fan ever since the early days, so I decided it was time I saw them live. I wasn’t disappointed. Although it’s been nearly a decade since we heard from the Black Crowes, it was as if they never left.

Before the show started, the unmistakable scent of pathcouli incense filled the room, courtesy of the band. Then the lights went down, they stepped on stage and I found myself enveloped in a cloud of pot. The atmosphere instantly took me back to my early rocking days and I found myself in a pleasant fit of nostalgia. Perhaps aided by the THC in the air, I grinned wide as Chris Robinson’s distinct voice belted out the first song of a two-hour set and he started posing, emphasizing lyrics with that strange, endearing body language reminiscent of Mick Jagger.

Like I said, I don’t know Warpaint so most of the songs were new to me. Most of the time, when I see a concert filled with unknown songs it’s difficult to get in the groove. But not this time. There’s an aura about the Black Crowes that just doesn’t go away, no matter what they’re playing. They did play some old stuff, but not much. Just fine by me.

And, along with the new record comes a new addition to the lineup. Guitarist Luther Dickinson joins the band, coming from the North Mississippi All-Stars. And it’s a powerful addition. His style blends perfectly with the band, but he also stands out as an incredibly talented musician. He’s presence is clearly felt and showcased, but blended so well that you would think he was with the band from the beginning.

Which brings up an interesting point: It’s explicitly clear that founding brothers Chris and Rich Robinson (pictured) still have problems with each other. During the entire set, they kept their distance and I don’t think made eye contact even once. And that’s a shame, because it could be the one thing that continues to hold them back.

Even so, I walked out of there with a rekindled flame for the Black Crowes, and a solid belief that, as long as they stay together and make music, the more they will cement their status as one of the iconic bands of the South, if not the country. The video below is from the show, of “Whoa Mule” from Warpaint. The second video (partial) showcases Luther Dickinson’s tremendous talent.

Warpaint is a declaration of our soulful independence – Chis Robinson

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCGqv6Ca7cQ[/youtube] [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQTOBPtDkqg[/youtube]

New Black Keys DVD Rips

(video after the jump) Black Keys Live at the Crystal Ballroom is a solid hour of some of the best The Black Keys have ever offered.

It captures their stage presence perfectly and showcases one of the best blues/rock revival bands around. Lead singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach’s gritty voice and effortless riffs combine in perfect unison with drummer Patrick Carney’s impeccable timing and rabid pace.

This is a must-buy for any serious rock or blues fan – and in my opinion for any serious music fan. This band will prove to be an important evolution in the world of music and every opportunity should be taken to see them whenever, wherever possible. And if you need further confirmation of the impact of The Black Keys, check out this Rolling Stone article.

Unfortunately, it might be that The Black Keys’ days are numbered. Auerbach is releasing a solo album and touring without Carney, who has been focused on his Audio Eagle label. While that may be the case, this DVD is timeless.

The video below is from the same show, but not from the DVD – it has much better sound and video quality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HMuayVlsy4[/youtube]

Battling Illness, Smashing Pumpkins Deliver in Hometown

The Smashing Pumpkins triumphant return to Chicago started on an ominous note. At their first of four shows, Billy Corgan chastised the audience for not being “into it” enough. That didn’t go over so well. Come Friday, I didn’t know what to expect.

When Billy came out in what looked like a wedding dress and some sort of halo-crown-japanese fan-type device on his head, I have to say, I wasn’t surprised. It kind of reminds me of Liberace and, who knows, a similar revelation might be down the road. But I digress. The headpiece came off and the gold coat, to reveal his signature “Zero” shirt and apprehensive applause from the audience. The show had begun and so emerged several revelations about this latest version of the Smashing Pumpkins.

  1. Jimmy Chamberlin remains a top-flight percussionist. The show opened with a drum solo (unusual) and it was great. Chamberlin was smooth and he remains the engine that drives the Pumpkins.
  2. Billy Corgan hasn’t lost his penchant for pushing boundaries. This set was hard, heavy and fast. Billy has been practicing his guitar because there were several solos and even some shredding. It wasn’t the Pumpkins I’m used to, but I actually enjoyed this new sound. And I can appreciate any artist that decides its more important to innovate than simply appease the masses.
  3. The “old” Pumpkins are still the favorite. “Tonight, Tonight” was one of the highlights of the night (that’s a lot of ‘ight’s’). And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Their new stuff is interesting, their old stuff is iconic.
  4. Even though ill (Saturday’s show was postponed), Billy wanted to deliver. Corgan is an interesting beast: he’s defiant, yet craves approval. He made a point to tell us he was sick, and disappointed that he couldn’t perform for us the way he wanted to. Yet, his primal scream during “Rat in a Cage” was intense, and my personal highlight. It must have taken a lot out of him – and it was worth it.
  5. Chicago loves, hates … and fears Billy Corgan. The audience clearly knew about Billy’s hissy fit from Tuesday. Applause was dished out liberally, sometimes before songs ended. And it’s not because the audience was confused, it was because they didn’t want to be ridiculed. Or did they? Billy returned in kind by telling us we were a great audience, much better than Tuesday. “They don’t know what rock and roll is,” he said. “But you do.” Awww, thanks Billy.

It was the Pumpkins in Chicago. A very good show, not a great show. But hey, I’ll see them time and time again. Do I feel obligated? Maybe. But I never know what I’m going to get, and I like that.

Review: Minus the Bear, Chicago, 10/17/08

(Video after the jump) Chemistry. Like a solid relationship, chemistry is essential to any good performance and Minus the Bear has it. This band has a unique beat, a rhythm different than most any other band you’ll hear. And that’s hard to achieve. Sometimes it sounds like a heartbeat has suddenly stopped, then been jolted back to life, or simply skipped a beat only to keep the rhythm seconds later. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And Minus the Bear knows how to make it work without seeming awkward or contrived – it just flows out of them, about as natural as whistling a tune.

Another fitting word – sophisticated. Part of that unique sound comes from the array of pedals, used heavily by both lead singer/guitarist Jake Snyder and lead guitarist Dave Knudson. Timed well throughout the show and sometimes used in place of an instrument, the array of effects is impressive, but not overwhelming.

As a whole, the show was impressive most of the times, but underwhelming at others. Their slower, more rhythmic songs are very good, but there were some that were downright pedestrian. And these tended to be the ones that were more “rock” oriented. For my money, I can hear standard rock music anywhere. Here, I’m more interested in that peculiar sound that I find stuck in my head for days on end. A worthy show worth the price of admission and I’d see them again.

Crowd note: This crowd was very, very young. I think the only people there older than myself were chapperones. And there was some moshing going on – which, considering this style of music, I found odd. And entertaining. Enjoy the video below, wish the sound quality was better for you.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeR4JUM2idk[/youtube]