Now that The Black Crowes are no longer with us, the Brothers Robinson having decided to finally pull the plug on what was one of the most successful touring bands of the 1990’s and 2000’s, a group which seemed to have everything before somehow (and unwittingly I’m sure) blowing it all away in a cloud of powder and artistic integrity. Not that the band ever lost its bite. 1994’s Amorica was one of the best albums of that year, or at least in my estimation, with its near perfect blend of Southern Rock and modern sensibilities, served as a wonderful soundtrack to my misspent youth. Three Snakes and One Charm, from 1996, was more fang than venom, while their next two records, By Your Side (1999) and Lions (2001) saw them in search of a musical identity beyond their reach. Which brings us to Warpaint Live, a 2CD (you guessed it) live document of the album of the same name, only with extra tracks.
Now bands usually wait at least a couple of decades until they decide on issuing a complete performance of one of their records, song for song. But not the Robinson Brothers, who obviously had it in their minds that Warpaint was already some sort of classic album that deserved the full live experience, which is all very good and well, however we’re not exactly talking about Exile On Main Street here.
Kicking off with “Daughters of the Revolution”, a song I can’t say I’m all that enamored with, and one which fails to raise my blood pressure for the wrong reasons, has the band sounding old and tired, retreading the same territory of yore. The studio incarnation of “Walk Believer Walk” failed to convince this Atheist, however the song is much more convincing when performed live. Robinson’s vocals are a tad grittier, and the guitars far more effective. It still doesn’t translate into a great tune mind you – merely an enjoyable one.
Their performance of “Josephine” is about as memorable as the meal you last had at some desert truck stop diner. “Evergreen” is better, yet fails to truly ignite, despite Luther Dickenson’s superb guitar playing. The band falls back on its roots with the Stonesy “Wee Who See the Deep”; perform a version of “Locust Street” that actually improves on the original, and then pour some peyote through your headphones with the hippie-rock of “Movin’ On Down the Line”. On “Wounded Bird” they burn off a little excess fuel; bunker down on the grunge-gospel of “God’s Got It”; get all cinematic on “There’s Gold in Them Hills”, until concluding with “Whoa Mule”, a song on which Steve Gorman’s percussive abilities really shine.
Now if the band were intent on sabotaging any prospect of commercial viability they do on side two, which begins with a faithful rendition of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett’s classic “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Johnson (Medley)”, which is so close to the original the listener might as well pull out their old copy of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends LP. The Crowes revisit a couple of old chestnuts in “Darling of the Underground Press” and “Bad Luck Blues Eyes Goodbye”, two songs that make everything else on this record simply pale in comparison. The Crowes are clearly in their element on their cover of Delaney and Bonnie’s rock-gospel “Don’t Know Why”, followed by a heartfelt version of the Stones’ “Torn and Frayed”. We conclude with the upbeat “Hey Grandma”, a song I haven’t heard before, nor may choose to again.
There’s something to be said about middle aged rockers, they certainly keep on going. And so they should. How The Rolling Bones keep on keeping on I have no idea. Although unlike the Stones, the Crowes were never truly destined to surpass their rock and roll forefathers. Not that I imagine many of their fans were complaining. Warpaint Live is a more than competent, occasionally stimulating record, whose best moments are rarely had in the originals (as heard on the first side), but rather, like sex itself, within the covers.