Live Music: The Black Crowes at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, 9/5/09

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

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Asbury Park’s storied Stone Pony isn’t the same since Live Nation took over. That cuts both ways. On the plus side, an enormous new stage has been constructed out back, and space has been created for a lot more people to attend the promoter’s Summerstage shows, thus allowing the club to bring major acts to the cradle of N.J. rock and roll. On the other hand, gone is the collegial atmosphere that once made the club an appealing place for members of the large local music scene to hang out, and perform. It was performances by local artists like Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and others that put this club on the map. That seems largely forgotten now. I guess business is business.

Putting all that aside, it was certainly a lovely evening at the Jersey Shore when the Black Crowes came to town. It was my second time seeing the band. I had been very impressed with their performance at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of ’08, and I was looking forward to seeing them again. The bonus was that in the interim, guitarist Luther Dickinson (of the North Mississippi Allstars) had joined the band. He promised to be a good addition to the band, and he delivered on that promise big time. Led by the two guitar attack of Dickinson and brother Rich Robinson, and the vocal intensity of brother Chris Robinson, the Black Crowes blew away a capacity crowd on the late-summer evening.

The Crowes have a new album out. In fact, I’ll be writing a review of it for Popdose soon. In the meantime, the band played live versions of a number of songs from the double album including the set-opening “Good Morning Captain,” and my favorite track from Before the Frost, “Houston Don’t Dream About Me.” It’s always a fine line between playing new material and fan favorites when a band is trying to promote a new album. Usually playing a lot of new material is a good way to insure that the crowd is going to get restless. By my count, the Black Crowes played eight new songs in their 18 song (including encores) set. For most bands, I’d say that’s way too many. The thing is the Crowes played them so well, very few people seemed to mind. Of course there were a number of casual fans in the Labor Day weekend crowd who wanted to hear the hits, and they got their wish when the Crowes did staggering versions of “Remedy” and “Hard To Handle” near the end of their set. Other set highlights included “Wiser Time,” “Roll Old Jeremiah,” and the encores of “Oh Josephine,” and Gram Parson’s “Hot Burrito #2.”

Back in the ’70s, I used to work at a lost and lamented venue in Passaic, N.J. called the Capitol Theater. The Capitol was the scene of many great shows. So many in fact, that huge bands like the Rolling Stones and the Who chose the theater when they wanted to do smaller shows. What the Capitol had, in addition to great music, was atmosphere. A lot of that atmosphere came from the acrid smoke that always seemed to be seeping through the house, but it was a lot more to it than that.

The Black Crowes are a throwback, and I mean that in a very good way. No mere imitators, they are a band that incorporates the sounds of a bygone era and makes them very much their own. They are honest musicians who know how to play, and when not to play. They are a part of the heritage of great American players who have recast the wide variety of music that this country has produced into their own singular sound. I’m thinking of bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Band (I know they were mostly Canadian, but there’s no denying that the music was full of American influences), and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Black Crowes have clearly earned the right to be placed on that level.

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