The Black Crowes: Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT 10/20/08

The Black Crowes sounded like a truly great rock and roll band in their first of two nights at Higher Ground. The new members of the band, especially guitarist Luther Dickinson, sounded fully integrated into the lineup, while Chris and Rich Robinson appeared as creative complements rather than the combatants of years past.

An early stretch of tunes including “Moving on Down the Line” set the tone for an extremely well-paced single set. The progression allowed the whole group to flex its muscles and display—though not flaunt—the strengths they’ve consolidated since the recording of their latest album Warpaint. Dickinson, once and future founder/leader of The North Mississippi All Allstars, utilized plenty of slide guitar during “Cosmic Friend,” and it simultaneously accentuated the thick bluesy texture of the Crowes sound and lent it a sophistication matching the structure of tunes like “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.”

Keyboardist Adam MacDougall, while not nearly so prominent as Dickinson, nonetheless contributed fluid organ to offset the heavy riffing and intervals of both electric and acoustic piano on “There’s Gold in Them Hills.”   Contrasting the heavy kick of Steve Gorman’s drums and Sven Pipien’s lively bass, the newest member of The Black Crowes opened up the collective sound to the extent the sextet engaged in spacious jams reminiscent of their early work on Amorica.

On the couplet of “Wee Who See the Deep” and “Thorn in My Pride” the Crowes really allowed themselves to stretch out. Ambient noise following Gorman’s old-school solo (shades of Buddy Rich) erupted from, of all sources, main vocalist Chris Robinson on electric guitar. Here the band allowed themselves to ride their own moment from the previous two hours before churning to a close on “Sometimes Salvation” and “Remedy.”

The spacey atmosphere of this period was accentuated through Chris Kuroda’s creative stage lighting. Still, this interval wouldn’t have worked so well had it not followed, in such short order, the acoustic likes of “Poor Elijah” and especially the Crowes’ own “Whoa Mule.”  The later featured Gorman sitting stage front on hand drum, Chris Robinson (again) playing a fair blues harp, and backup singers Mona Lisa Young and Charity White adding authentic gospel feel. This effective pacing suggested how The Black Crowes have earned such a devoted following over the years. More importantly, it demonstrated how much they deserve such passion right now.

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