Thursday, April 30, 2009

Caw! Caw! Good Times With the Black Crowes

The Black Crowes: Freak 'n' Roll...Into The Fog
Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2006 // 150 Minutes

By Steve Evans

Opening Shot
Here's the latest installment in my recurring series of DVD concert reviews. If you dig heavy-rock blues, this is one of the best packages on the market.

Let's Rock
Listen up, because there's some wonderful damn noise waiting to come out of this DVD. The Black Crowes lay down 19 classic songs over 2 ½ hours of live concert footage shot in high-definition video at the historic Fillmore West. Flash, bam, pow! This is the finest rock 'n' roll DVD to hit the street since Jimmy Page remastered old Led Zeppelin footage and turned loose that stunning two-disc Zep set in 2003.

I see these cats in concert every year during the leg of their tour that brings the Crowes through Virginia. In between those annual sets, this disc will do.

Got Live at the Fillmore If Ya Want It
Here's the righteous truth: The Black Crowes kick out cosmic jams like nobody working today. This is a superb document of one transcendental evening on their 2005 reunion tour, with all the hits and plenty of surprises. It gets better. Here's a disc that's affordably priced at less than $15, considering the tremendous amount of content—all of it beautifully captured in high-def with the aural wonder of a fully immersive Dolby 5.1 audio experience.

San Francisco. The Fillmore West. This was rock impresario Bill Graham’s original, legendary venue: a concert hall where Jimi Hendrix wailed on a Stratocaster and Janis Joplin yowled into the microphone; where the Dead jammed for hours during an endless summer long ago. The Fillmore is also where Martin Scorsese shot The Last Waltz and 30 years ago captured the definitive live performance of The Band. So perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that The Black Crowes finish their Fillmore set with a note-perfect cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down." The Crowes cover all their hits from six studio albums, including perennial crowd pleasers like "Sting Me," "She Talks to Angels," and "Hard to Handle." Lead singer Chris Robinson seems uncharacteristically sedate at first, but soon starts dancing in his bare feet and wailing his heart out. When the Crowes settle into an extended jam on "My Morning Song," the audience quiets to a hush. It’s a moment of pure rock transcendence, on par with Jimmy Page's extended soloing on “Dazed and Confused” (note: while we're talking about Zeppelin's influence on the Black Crowes, the uninitiated should also give a listen to the Black Crowe's 2000 tour with Page, captured on the deliriously hard-rockin’ Live at the Greek).

Truth be told, The Crowes in their prime laid down some chops as heavy as Zeppelin's Sturm und Drang on classics like “Whole Lotta Love.” The message of that great Zeppelin track is about as subtle as a locomotive barreling into a tunnel. And the Crowes' "Hard to Handle," a cover of an Otis Redding hit, blasts off with the same sentiment:

Baby, here I am
I'm the man on the scene
I can give you what you want
But you gotta’ come home with me

I have got some good ol’ lovin’
And I got some more in store
When I get through throwin’ it on ya
You gotta’ come back for more…

I am reminded of the great music critic Greil Marcus, who once said, "Ninety-nine percent of all rock 'n' roll is about sex. And the other one percent isn't worth listening to."

I'll take those odds any day.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
Sweetness & light, I’m tellin’ ya. Technically, the DVD is flawless with a beautiful hi-def image complemented by a choice of three audio options. There's not a single instance of pixilation or image breakup. Audio is crystal-clear with vigorous surround-speaker action across the sound stage and tight response from the subwoofer.

Extras are limited to grainy behind-the-scenes footage, much of it amateurishly photographed. There's also an odd Easter Egg with about a minute of blurry, psychedelic concert footage, but no audio. Peculiar, but not a deal-breaker. Fact is, the main concert is so damn good as to make any carping about extras seem almost petty.

This is another fine disc from the wicked-cool cats at Eagle Rock, who understand what a concert DVD ought to be. And they deliver, time and again. I’ve never cranked up a bad disc from Eagle Rock. Of their many product offerings I have seen, this one's the rockin’ best, hands down. In fact, stop fooling around with this review, get off your ass and go buy the DVD right now. You can thank the Black Crowes later.

Set List:
• "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere"
• "Sting Me"
• "No Speak No Slave"
• "Soul Singing"
• "Welcome to the Goodtimes"
• "Jealous Again"
• "Space Captain"
• "My Morning Song"
• "Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz"
• "Cursed Diamond"
• "She Talks to Angels"
• "Wiser Time"
• "Non Fiction"
• "Seeing Things"
• "Hard to Handle"
• "Let Me Share the Ride"
• "Mellow Down Easy"
• "Remedy"
• "The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down"

You can listen to The Black Crowes here.

And watch one of their concert videos (listening tip: turn off the jukebox at right, below).

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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