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I don’t have a post ready for today, so here’s a snapshot of a CD I saw in Toronto, an original cover of the Black Crowes’ Amorica album. I loved that someone felt it needed labelling.

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Lenny Kravitz & Black Crowes, Pine Knob 1999-05-22

1537 and I were talking about Lenny Kravitz, following his excellent post on the subject, and it boiled down to I should tell the story of the time we saw Lenny in concert.

Challenge: Accepted!

My sister is a huge Black Crowes fan (me too, but not as much as her), and they were playing in Clarkston, Michigan in 1999. The show was at the Pine Knob. So we piled into the car and away we went. We did not have tickets – we were trusting we’d find scalpers.

When we got to the border, I was told to keep my mouth shut. Why? Because I’m the guy who was voted most likely to say something dumb, as a joke, that would get us pulled over and cavity searched. We got through the border easily (with my silence) and we were rolling…

Slowly. Tons of road construction in Detroit delayed us. What was most awesome was the way the road signs for the construction held our hands so nicely – Detour in 100’ and then Detour in 90’, Detour in 80’ and so on. With big flashing lights on signs! Good thing they had so many obvious signs, we might have missed the only way the road was allowing us to go anyway! The only real concern was a detour in a city that we did not know at all, and which has a reputation for being a little rough sometimes. We made it through just fine, though, so, um, thank you, Detroit?

Huge pre-show tailgate party, and we found scalpers who sold us face-value seats. Wahoo! We got into the general admission bowl and found seats about 15 rows back from the stage, right in the center. Sweet.

First up was Cree Summer. Remember her from that Cosby Show spin-off? Yeah. She had a CD, apparently, and was a protegé of Lenny Kravitz’ at the time. I’d love to be able to tell you all about her set but it was completely unmemorable, apparently.

Everlast had a bad cold, and was in a bad mood. He made no effort to hide either of these facts. He played the hit songs the crowd wanted, such as The Ends and What It’s Like, but he sure made it seem like the bloody chore it obviously was, for him.

And then we got to the Black Crowes, the band we had paid good money to scalpers to see. They were excellent, of course. I found the setlist online, and as you can see, it was a helluva show and I don’t even need to review it, this list speaks for itself:

No Speak No Slave
Go Faster
Twice As Hard
Sting Me
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Kickin’ My Heart Around
Horsehead
Sometimes Salvation
My Morning Song
High Head Blues
Heavy
Wiser Time
Remedy

Hot damn!

Up next was Lenny Kravitz. The crowd was at its largest, now, for Lenny was the show everyone wanted. Fools, to me the Crowes had ended the night in the best way possible! But we stayed for Lenny, because we’d driven all that way and why the hell not see what this was all about.

Lenny was in full-on soul revue mode. I wish I could remember if he did the James Brown cape thing, but even if he didn’t he should have, because it would just have been the schlock icing on the cake. And I saw James Brown in concert, so I’d know!

I’m no Lenny expert, but I knew most of the songs, so the setlist was aimed at even the casual fan.

Some lowlights from this show:

During one song, the guitar player’s guitar cut out, right in the middle of a solo. He was in full bent-back glory, wailing away and then… nothing. As would we all, he looked down at his guitar in disbelief. Next, he had two choices: 1) try to fix whatever the problem was and get back into the song as soon as possible. I’d like to think most of us would choose this option. No, this guy chose door 2), which was to take the guitar off his body, hold it at arm’s length and then drop it on the stage while looking pointedly at the roadies offstage that they should get the hell out here and fix his problem NOW. Arms crossed (yes!), toe tapping impatiently (yes!) this dumbass primadonna watched imperiously as a roadie scrambled out, picked up the guitar, and re-plugged the patchcord into the jack. That was it. Just plug it back in. Coulda solved that yourself in less than a second, asshole. What a douche.

The second worst moment of the night was when Lenny was yapping away between songs and decided he just HAD to be out there with the crowd, to walk through them and touch hands, or whatever. Remember, this was full-on soul revue revival mode. At the time I remember asking my sister 1) if he was for real, and 2) if he thought he was Jesus, or something. Anyway there goes Lenny right off the front of the stage, and security is having kittens. I don’t even know if thee’d been told this was going to happen. My guess is not. The crush forward was ridiculous, and those security guys could not possibly have been paid enough to defend his Lennyness from the onslaught like they did.

The whole thing was ludicrous. They finally made it up to the sound board and I could see them discussing just how in the hell were they gonna get Lenny back down to the stage to finish the set? It was a long, drawn out nightmare of a stupid decision on his part. What a doofus.

How could it get any worse than that?

The worst moment of the night was brought to us by our excellent seats. You see, once he was finally back on stage and they were playing away through one song or another and I saw, plain as day, that he was lip-syncing the goddamned song! I’d swear to it to this day. At that point, I was done. Enough. Screw you, Lenny. I’m not saying he lip-synced the whole show, probably he didn’t. But for whatever the reason, that song I caught him at it. He’d deny it, surely. Of course he would.

There was one saving grace from this set, though. Lenny’s drummer, Cindy Blackman, was fucking amazing. She was definitely slumming it, on this Lenny gig. Talent oozed off of her, you could just tell she’s got it going on when it comes to playing the drums. Very, very well done, Cindy!

We left the gig a bit early, to beat the majority of the crowd. It was a long drive out, a lot of waiting even then. And then the construction slowed us further on the return trip, and by then we were finsihed. Let’s just get over the border (without incident), find a hotel in Windsor and drive home in the morning. A great plan, except that some sort of convention was in town, and we only got a room in about the tenth hotel we tried because someone hadn’t shown up. And it was a room on a floor with all these convention people, and they were up late partying, talking loudly and drunkenly. We didn’t get much sleep.

We finally got home the next day, and that is the story of how the Black Crowes owned the Pine Knob, and Lenny Kravitz turned my stomach.

***

For those of you who are interested, the internet says this was Lenny’s setlist:

It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over
Supersoulfighter
Tunnel Vision
Rock And Roll Is Dead
Fields of Joy
Always On The Run
Drum Solo
Let Love Rule

Encore 1 – Fly Away
Encore 2 – Are you Gonna Go My Way

My thoughts on this:

1) There could probably have been at least three more songs in this short setlist if Lenny had stayed on the stage like a normal human being, instead of his whole going into the crowd stunt, which wasted a lot of time.

2) He did two encores, one song each? We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but that’s just typical of the way this night went. Get a bigger crowd reaction if you leave and come back TWICE! And waste even more time! I’m starting to wonder if Lenny even wanted to be there.

Black Crowes – Until The Freeze

Aimless Peacock’s Tea Party-ish sitar-sounding chug is an unexpected intro to the record. Shady Grove slinks along with a great groove, Garden Gate is a bluegrass stomp and Roll Old Jeremiah and So Many Times are country-bound. Shine Along is the type of acoustic blues they’d be well-served to do far more often. Lady Of Avenue A would surely have more power live. All in all, though, a great companion to Before The Frost. If it wasn’t for the weak Croweology, one could feel like the Crowes were back in the saddle again.

Black Crowes – Before The Frost

Before The Frost is a full return to form for the Crowes. Good Morning Captain is a happy little stomper, Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love) has CCR written all over it, and Appaloosa is built for CMT. I Ain’t Hiding’s incongruous disco thing probably sounds better live (holy late-70’s Stones, Batman!). Kept My Soul and Make Glad’s dirty blues are satisfying, and there’s some acoustic tracks here, too. This is how they’re supposed to sound. Well done.

Black Crowes – War Paint

This record is a definite improvement over Lions. Anything but a disco record would have been, honestly. Opener Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution is a great song, takes me back to the earlier days. Walk Believer Walk stomps along nicely, Oh Josephine is a pretty, slower track. Wounded Bird is finely funky. The album continues along like this, mostly mid-tempo blues and acoustic tracks, some even going for that old-timey recording sound I like. There are no real duds. It feels like a cohesive album, it has a vision. What a relief. I don’t know where to rank it in the discography, but it’s actually one of the better ones.

Black Crowes – Lions

On the heels of the energy of By Your Side and the rush of playing with Jimmy Page, the Crowes inexplicably cough up this hairball. Like cover tunes of their own weaker tracks, there’s not much to shout about here. It’s obvious they tried to be funky in places, but none of it ever catches fire. And yes, it’s easy to sit here and shoot down the work they put into this, but with the group of musicians they had at their disposal, this record should have been so much more. Soul Singing and Cypress Tree are reasonably bright spots in a track list of largely forgettable tunes.

Black Crowes and Jimmy Page – Live At The Greek

The set-up: Drop an actual rock legend into the line-up and rock out every teenage boy’s dream: pretending to be Led Zeppelin. The band’s renditions of the music are passably fine, but Chris is no Plant, not even close. In fact, his voice just makes the Zep (and other old blues) songs sound like Crowes songs, which can be disorienting at times. It should be an orgasmic supergroup, and comes off sounding thin somehow, instead. Added bonus: at least now they can play all these classic, tried-and-true songs in concert when things are lagging and claim context for it.

Black Crowes – By Your Side

An over-produced attempt to return to the original form, the ballsy roots and Stones rock of the earlier records, which was pleasing for a while. The one-two punch of Go Faster and Kicking My Heart Around are a great intro (and Go Tell The Conregation carries the torch further), and there’s plenty of their shoulda-been-sole trademark funky old-soul blues drenched throughout the rest of the tracks too. Mostly well done.

Saw them in concert twice for this album, once at a multi-band festival at Pine Knob (Lenny, you lip-syncing bastard!), and at a crowded, hot bar/venue on the docks in Toronto. This was the ideal time to see them live – the new songs had some life, and the better songs from earlier albums were still in the setlists.

This record gave me a glimmer (twins) of hope for the future of the Crowes, that maybe Three Snakes was a one-off whoops.

Black Crowes – Live EP from The Sho’ Nuff Box Set

Further to the argument I heard about the Crowes being a live band first and foremost, this EP definitely displays their prowess and marks their place as a band that mattered in their time. The vocals are sometimes buried in the mix, but the song selection is good, with an acoustic Cursed Diamond, horns on Hard To Handle, and a fantastic drum breakdown in Remedy. A decent, short blast.

Black Crowes – Three Snakes And One Charm

It’s hard to separate this record from seeing them live at Massey Hall on this tour. Chris was so out of it that he could barely stand, and the band seemed tired of his ass, all of which cast a pallour on the whole thing. But still, some of these songs hint at what was. Let Me Share The Ride and Blackberry are classic Moneymaker Crowes, and Good Friday was built for radio. Most of the rest could have been great, but it sounds like the inspiration was already gone, the idea played out. Sadly, not their best effort.

the live band argument

It’s also been brought to my attention that the Black Crowes are a live band first, that it’s a little unfair to judge based on their recorded output. Apparently a lot of the songs that are mediocre on disc are transcendent in a live setting. All well and good, except they rarely play concerts anymore, and the CDs are all we have on any given day.

For a band that takes hiatus as often as these guys, are we supposed to care, at this point? Perhaps they could have put more effort into making the weaker records sound like their live show, then, if that’s how it is. Just a thought.

Black Crowes – Amorica

Those in the know tell me that this is the Crowes at their peak. And sure, many bands would give their left nuts for songs this good. While it is definitely worthy, it’s a band coasting on the peak of Southern, and it hints at what was to come. A Conspiracy and High Head Blues go so well together, Cursed Diamond has one of their best one-liners, and Downtown Money Waster is undeniably funky. Wiser Time, Descending and Ballad In Urgency offer softness, but for all its great moments, Amorica’s new direction didn’t quite excite as it should have.

Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion

Definitely no sophomore slump, this is their best record. It had a radio hit in the groovy Remedy (and shoulda-beens like My Morning Song and Black Moon Creeping), sheer energy in Hotel Illness and Sting Me, need-to-be-heard hidden gems like Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye and Sometimes Salvation, and the majesty of Thorn In My Pride, arguably their best song ever. In execution, creativity and soulfulness, Southern is a high point early in a career riddled with quick moments of greatness.

Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker

One of their better records, this first release finds the Crowes in fine, sassy form. Maybe you’re tired of She Talks To Angels and their cover of Hard To Handle, but dig deeper and find reward in the rawk of Stare It Cold and Thick ‘N Thin, the sweep of Sister Luck and Seeing Things. Perhaps youthful energy is the reason, but here they are believably exuberant in their homage to the Stones, Aerosmith and old soul and blues classics. Southern rock fun.

Further To The Crowes

It has been brought to my attention that I maybe don’t appreciate the Black Crowes as much as I should. I used to like them, but grew indifferent when they went hippy dippy instead of continuing their sassy rawk. There follows an album by album return to their catalogue, and reviews thereof.

Black Crowes – Croweology

I used to really like the Crowes. Not to totally dismiss their more recent output, but their most complete work was Southern. And that cuts way deep into the past, I know. But beginning with Amorica, it was hit and miss tracks: some really great (and when the Crowes are great, they’re untouchable), some drugged-out time-wasters, and the rest just make me indifferent.

Fast-forward (unfairly) through more than a decade of lackluster come-back albums and solo efforts, and we arrive at this collection of “acoustic” covers of their own back catalogue. Just reading the track selections interested me enough to want to hear it, but only from a nostalgic point of view. After giving it a spin, I can only imagine this to be a cash-grab effort. I once heard somebody call Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album version of Layla the “Holiday Inn version,” and that’s exactly what we get from the Crowes here. Ye gods.

Now, it’s impossible not to move to the riff of Remedy (one of rock’s best ever), but this version starts out with some promise and devolves into pretty much just a remake of what we already have on the album, complete with back-up singers. Why bother? Hotell Illness stomps fairly well (with restraint, of course, which ruins the energy of the original), but the hand claps at the start of Share The Ride had me singing “Hey Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow mind. Hey Mickey! Hey Mickey!” Damn, that’s unfortunate. Songs like Wiser Time, She Talks To Angels, and others were acoustic songs anyway, many of the rest here were the slower songs to begin with, and there’s no exciting cover tunes, so there’s no big stretch to be found. In fact, it’s kinda boring.

All that said, it’s always good to hear Thorn In My Pride, no matter what they do it. Arguably, it’s their best song ever. And there’s some great acoustic guitar work here. Scattered throughout their career it’s been obvious that Rich really can play the blues, when it occurs to him. This album’s rendition of My Morning Song’s tasty slide work is a good example of that (even if it is buried way too deep in the mix to truly appreciate it), but again, why not just go play the original record?

Well, it’s official. The Crowes have finally released a record your Mom will like. Break out the minivan and the latte on the way to soccer practice. Help us all.

Bob Dylan, Belle And Sebastian, Carole King, Beatles, Black Crowes, Guns ‘N Roses

Here’s the next batch of your favourites!

05 IRWIN: Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy

Irwin is the biggest Bob Dylan fan I know (and I know several). His response came back to the Favourites query immediately, with Oh Mercy. I trust he’s heard most of the Dylan catalogue by now and, of them all, this is the one for him.

I’ve already reviewed this record in these pages, and it is indeed a brilliant collection from a peerless artist. It is another of Dylan’s generous efforts to wake us up, to shake us out of our complacency and do something about the world and our lives. Dylan knows his role perfectly well. Do you?

06 SHENA: Belle And Sebastian – Tigermilk

Our great friend Shena from the mighty Mint Records chimed in with Belle and Sebastian as her favourite, and I was so glad she did. I remember loving this album the first time I heard it, and it sent me running to find everything else they’d recorded, but to be honest I haven’t played it in so long, which is a real shame… however, here was the perfect opportunity to strap back in!

Few bands can offer up a debut album this infectious, this excellent, this delicious. Every note is perfectly placed, every song is delivered with a clever wink and a knowing smile, and their playful, clear sound reigns supreme. Thank you, Shena, for reminding me that this gem of an album belongs in my playlist!

07 MY MOM: Carole King – Tapestry

My Mom selected this as her favourite record, which surprised me a bit, at first. I would have lost money by betting on sure shots like the Beatles or Elvis.

Well, I played this record and my childhood came flooding back. I knew every song, and it’s because that beat up copy of this record got a lot of play. It’s probably still somewhere in the house we grew up in. Funny how you can associate songs and albums with people and places. Mom had the jukebox full of 45s, hence my sure bets that lost, but this LP was always present too.

And what did I think of it now? Well, my memory didn’t do it much justice. There’s more here than I remembered, smarter songs and power unremembered. Yes, a lot of these songs get played as background music in malls now, and that’s pretty sad. There’s plenty more to it than that. Way to go, Mom.

08 MY DAD: Beatles – Hey Jude

My Dad knows what he likes when it comes to music, but not always the names of the artists or albums. That kind of information doesn’t interest him at all. After seeing Forrest Gump, he said, “There was music?” And so on.

This song and artist, however (of course), he knows. It’s his favourite song of all time. It was on my Mom’s jukebox all those years, and the one he liked to hear best. Of course, when we were kids we liked it well enough, but it just went on and on (and it really does, especially at the end). “Great song in need of editing. Apply within.” And it is a great song, with an interesting history that you should look up on Wikipedia, some time (especially the bit about Lennon swearing during it).

I couldn’t find an album this came from (although it’s long enough to be it’s own album, haha). If you know more than me, I’ll happily be enlightened by your comments. Looks to me like this was only ever on a 45. But we’ll let Dad away with it for this project, because he really, really likes this song.

09 MY SISTER: Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion

I am totally not surprised that my sister chose this as her favourite record. She’s one of the biggest Crowes fans I know, has been for years. There was a time when I loved the Black Crowes, especially this one and its predecessor. As they progressed, I sort of lost interest in them. They had great songs after that, in my opinion, but they never topped this (sophomore) album.

Every song here is a gem. At many points, the record really rocks with their Stones-inspired bluesy swagger, and then at other times it can be so gentle it hurts. There’s the obvious hits, and hidden masterpieces worthy of every playlist. It’s messily perfect, in every way.

10 RUTH: Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite For Destruction

Some of the responses to this query have surprised me a bit, like this one from Ruth. Not that I’m faulting her for making this choice – this is a fantastic record. But sometimes you think you generally know someone and then they come up with something that doesn’t quite fit what you’d have guessed. This, may I say for the record, rules. I love that things are unpredictable.

Appetite has already been reviewed in these pages, and I stand by what I said. It’s a sweet blast of sweaty rock that is as much raw punk as it is 80’s hair metal. And, even more so, it is all about Slash. That Les Paul guitar dominates this record.

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