First of all, the production isn’t exactly what one would expect from a band that once prided itself on spending truck loads of cash trying to sound like a high fidelity version of The Rolling Stones. I’ve heard bootlegs with better sonic balance than on this release, which was issued in 2002, following yet another bitter breakup. Which is a shame, as the performances are excellent throughout, from the heavy feedback drenched “Midnight from the Inside Out”, a sort of Led Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath number, to the high energy rock and roll of “Sting Me”, off their second album, the Crowes are in fine form. The band resurrects “Thick ‘n’ Thin”, along with an impassioned reading of “She Talks to Angels”, both from the group’s debut.
Singer Chris Robinson attempts to proselytize the audience before launching into a convincing “Greasy Grass River”, on which guitarist Audley Freed flashes his not too inconsiderable chops at those in attendance. We slow down on the classic “Sometimes Salvation”, a track which pushes the old VU meters of my amp into uncharted territory. The philosophical “Cursed Diamond”, from Amorica, is as melancholic as always, like Kurt Cobain fronting The Faces.
“Miracle To Me” is the weakest link here, and a dull one at that. Rich Robinson’s guitar playing bears a slight resemblance to Nick Drake, not a bad thing in itself, except for the fact that the tune is so bloody boring. Not bad, just boring. The band takes off on “Wiser Time”, one of their best songs, with some superlative guitar by Freed and Robinson. That they’d probably performed the tune many hundreds of times over the preceding years, the listener wouldn’t know, after hearing this version, proving that despite their internal bickering and politics, the group had lost none of its passion and power to perform.
Interestingly only one song from the underrated Three Snakes and One Charm gets an airing, the country-rock flavoured “Girl from A Pawnshop”, where Chris Robinson belts out his heart through his lungs, followed by the celestial hard rock of “Cosmic Friend”, more notable for its guitar interplay than for the tune itself. Robinson unleashes his inner Steve Marriot on the Humble Pie influenced “Black Moon Creeping”, resurrect the psychedelically Latin infused “High Head Blues”, then dig deep into their catalogue by performing “Title Song”, a dark, disturbing composition dating back to the early ‘90s, the finest versions of which date to the Marc Ford days, what many consider (this critic included) to be the ultimate line-up. And while Freed may be no Ford, he certainly manages to bring a certain gravitas to the proceedings.
Now it wouldn’t be a Black Crowes concert retrospective without the afore mentioned ballad “She Talks To Angels”, a kind of Rod Stewart/Rolling Stones hybrid that never fails to elicit a soft emotion or two. “Twice As Hard”, also from Shake Your Money Maker, is as tough as nails including a twin guitar attack about as subtle as a couple of sledge hammers. “Lickin’” might be entertaining, yet as a song it absolutely sucks. The band run through the motions on a perfunctory “Soul Singing”, deliver an extremely professional cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”, reminiscent of their younger days, then soar off the stage with a rousing “Remedy”.
The Japanese edition contains an extra track, the potent and formidable “My Morning Song”, which is an absolute tour de force and one that is probably the most inspired (including the odd nod to Led Zeppelin).
The Black Crowes Live indeed has all the right ingredients and energy. Recorded at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston, in October 2001, each performance is largely faultless, except that is, as mentioned earlier, the mixing. Overall the sound is muddy, as if the band were performing through some sort of sonic fog. Though at least it’s not as bad as some of those shitty audience recordings we used to listen to.
With the plethora of internet downloads of the band’s live shows, Live has become perhaps little more than an artefact of its time. One that is as enjoyable as it is frustrating.