Concert Review: The Black Crowes (The Palace Theater, Albany, New York, March 9, 1999)

On their latest plastic slab ‘o sound, By Your Side, the Black Crowes returned to the same sorts of wham-bam-see-ya’-man musical mojo that defined the Georgia-bred band before their unfortunate four-year foray into the Dead-Phish-DMB zone. The freshly retooled sextet also showed that their return to rock & roll basics is encompassing more than studio work when they played a wholly wank-free live set at the Palace Theater last Tuesday. Unfortunately, after years of watching the Crowes driving the hemp HORDE furthur into the land of the widdly ones, the group’s once ferocious following has thinned noticeably, as the Palace was filled far below capacity for this fine return-both to the region and to early form.

If the “I’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell . . . ” concept still holds true, however, then the Crowes should be well on the road to popularity recovery in no time at all. Vocalist Chris Robinson once again proved himself one of the great, charismatic rock singers of his era, firing the crowd as much with how he moved, grooved and enthused as through what came out of his mouth-although that stuff wasn’t bad either. It’s also worth noting that while Robinson can’t quite be said to look healthy, exactly, he certainly looked a lot less unhealthy than he has in the past. See what clean(er) livin’ can getcha?

Chris’ brother Rich Robinson (who played the guitar parts all by hisself on By Your Side) offered slippery slides, soaring solos and strong rhythm support throughout the evening-and he wasn’t even the most impressive guitarist on the stage. So give the Robinsons credit for being smart (and ego-free) enough to recruit new lead guitboxer Audley Freed, as it was both a listener’s and a looker’s treat to be able to bounce focus between his work (left channel) and Eddie Harsh’s bold n’ bizzy keyboard efforts (right channel). And note well that it was damn nice to hear an ivory tinkler actually tinkling, as opposed to triggering, chording, sequencing or sampling.

Throw in great rhythmic support from drummer Steve Gorman and bassist Sven Pipien and you pretty well had the complete package — although it was also wonderful (particularly for this clubland regular) to be able to appreciate that package in a grand old theater such as the Palace. Remember when Paul McCartney sang about the “Rock Show” with all of its attendant pomp, showmanship and even a proscenium arch? Well, this was one of those: not a concert, not a club stand, not an arena appearance, but a show. And I’ve forgotten how enjoyable those used to be — although I think that I did manage to remember them longer than I did Moke’s Hootie-goes-to-England opening set last Tuesday. Although both are cloudy, so I can’t be quite sure.

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