Anyone who saw The Black Crowes at Higher Ground on October 21 no doubt woke the next morning hearing the strains of "Silver Train" playing in their head. This Rolling Stones cover‚ sleek and potent‚ was as appropriate an end to this second of two shows as the preceding night's closer‚ "Don't Do It."
That tune made famous by The Band was the very same one with which "Mr. Crowes Garden" opened their 2005 appearance at Higher Ground‚ a pinnacle from which the performance descended into a virtual train wreck. The right touch of restraint demonstrated on each number may have summarized how different was this 2008 run.
It's a different Black Crowes than when they first reunited in 2005. With North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson having recorded and now toured this year with the band‚ there's a level of polish and professionalism within their collective musicianship akin to the period when Mick Taylor first joined the Rolling Stones. Fledgling keyboardist Adam MacDougall has a much more prominent role than his predecessor too.
So it's doubtful The Crowes of recent years past could've carried off a set like they did this Tuesday night. Emphasizing songs rather than the improvisation that dominated Monday night's show‚ the band might've stayed too long in the ballad mode mid-set. But it was appropriate to include "Soul Singing‚" because on "Locust Street" -- almost as much as on Bob Dylan's "Going to Acapulco" -- the entire sextet demonstrated the same self-possessed emotionalism as the aforementioned encores.
With novelties like "God's Got It" (featuring drummer extraordinaire Steve Gorman on a parade drum emblazoned with the visage of "W")‚ the Crowes didn't sustain the high points or reach so many of them this second night in Vermont. But that's only to say they were a very good rock and roll band rather than the truly great one that inhabited the stage Monday. The sound was loud and clear throughout‚ so anyone could hear and feel bassist Sven Pipien and Gorman kick in on "Oh Josephine" to propel the band back to high speed. MacDougall's electric piano shone throughout "Wiser Time" as did Dickinson's melodious slide work‚ an interlude that made the crowd sing-along on "Hard to Handle" almost inevitable. Yet that short‚ sweet reading of the Crowes' "hit" was a gesture of balance rather than condescension.
A second sold-out throng stayed the night and paid attention throughout the two hours‚ suggesting how the Black Crowes have held on to their audience through the extended years of arrested development. Now that they're certified late-bloomers‚ it all seems worth the wait.
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