The Black Crowes at Lake Champlain Maritime Festival
Lake Champlain Maritime Festival
August 17, 2013
Was the Black Crowes show August 17th Waterfront Park one of the best shows in Burlington's history? Perhaps, perhaps not, but there's no denying the band executed a dynamic set with a confidence and expertise that wholly belies its volatile history, not to mention their on-again, off-again activities of the last decade.
All too often a victim of self-imposed stunted growth during their near quarter century existence, the Crowes have matured dramatically in recent years, thanks in no small part to the musicianship of the now-departed guitarist Luther Dickinson. The band played only one tune from the period of time when the co-leader of the North Mississippi All Stars was in the group, but the sprightly country air, "Garden Gate," began a mini-set of acoustic arrangements that distinguished over two hours of earthy, expansive rock and roll, otherwise replete with more high-decibel material such as "Sting Me."
The Black Crowes have benefited from some association with the jam band scene as well as their Southern rock heritage, but they've never been known as improvisationalists, per se. Yet the surety with which guitarist Rich Robinson stepped forward and commandeered the group, beginning with his appropriately wan lead vocal on Velvet Underground's "O Sweet Nuthin,'" may be the clearest indicator of how the band he leads with his brother and lead vocalist/songwriter Chris has matured without losing any of its stubbornly iconoclastic attitude. Rich Robinson's sweeping chords and sweet harmonics during the striking "She Talks to Angels" was as memorable as the cauterizing edge of his exploratory yet disciplined solos on "Remedy."
His fret board counterpart, Jackie Greene, who first gained recognition from his friendship with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, has made a place for himself in the Black Crowes in very short order, having just joined the group for their touring this year. He repeatedly upped the ante with intense, often frenetic guitar solos, but also offered the subtle decoration of slide guitar on "Wiser Time" (where keyboardist Adam McDougall circled from pianos to organ to clavinet within the tune's near thirty-minute duration), flavored "Thorn in My Pride" with mandolin and, along with stalwart bassist Sven Pipien (who, with his rhythm partner extraordinaire drummer Steve Gorman, could be both felt and heard in a pretty fair sound mix for an open air show), and sang vocal harmonies throughout the evening that made moot the absence of the Crowes' usual complement of female singers.
Perusing any set list from the cryptically named "Lay Down with 13" tour, including the Queen City song selection, will not accurately portray how electrifying are the 2013 Black Crowes. An encore of the band's first hit, "Hard to Handle," at first seemed to have undermined the ingenuity otherwise displayed on the shore of Lake Champlain this gorgeous summer night. Yet the interpolation of Billy Joe Royal's "Hush" (once covered by Deep Purple!?!?) was so purposefully integrated into this Otis Redding number (once, too, a staple of Grateful Dead repertoire through the auspices of the late Pigpen), it served as a bold exclamation point to the performance.
When Chris Robinson, breathlessly offering a "See ya next time," bade adieu to a charged but satiated crowd, the hearty response was in kind, completing a mutual sense of satisfaction that would seem to render inevitable the return of the Black Crowes to the Green Mountains.