The most striking thing about The Black Crowes’ performance at the Palace Theatre on Saturday night wasn’t the group’s stellar jam sessions or energetic performance, although both of these things should be noted. Rather, it was the mid-set stretch of cover versions that stood out.
At first glance, this may seem quite odd, considering The Crowes have no shortage of original material, with seven studio albums under their collective belt, including 2008’s reunion record, the critically lauded “Warpaint.” However, the band has always seemed to be apart from its time, paying homage to the classic rock of the ’60s and ’70s with its original material.
Therefore, amped-up, jammed-out versions of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country,” The Band’s “Rockin’ Chair” and Robert Johnson’s “Poor Elijah” didn’t feel out of place, and gave the group’s members a chance to stretch their musical muscles a bit. Clearly, the band was having fun, although fans may have been looking for more of the group’s original material. Many an audience member took their seats during the covers, only to stand when the group fired up with original numbers again.
And there were certainly plenty of original Crowes songs to go around, including a ripping run-through of “Evergreen” from the aforementioned “Warpaint” to get things started off on the right foot. Frontman Chris Robinson strutted about the stage with a commanding air and plenty of rock ’n’ roll attitude throughout, at times channeling Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler.
The entire band was in uniformly fine shape, with Rich Robinson and new guitarist Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars trading searing leads during the coda of “Ballad of Urgency,” from 1994’s “Amorica.” Easily a highlight of the entire show, the song also offered Chris Robinson a chance to shine vocally, and toned things down for the set’s considerably more subdued mid-section.
“Amorica” and “Warpaint” songs dominated the set list, with “Gone” and “Wiser Time” standing out from the former album. The newer songs, such as “Walk, Believer, Walk” and the closing jam “Wounded Bird” proved the band didn’t lose any of its spitting aggression during its three-year hiatus.
Oakland, Calif., psychedelic sludge rockers Howlin Rain tore through a fierce six-song opening set that whetted the audience’s appetite for more. Songs such as “Dancers at the End of Time” and the anthemic “Lord Have Mercy” provided a springboard for some groovy jams on guitar and keyboards, with a slight Southern-rock tinge permeating the whole affair.
Frontman Ethan Miller was nothing short of a monster, proving the band’s namesake with his powerful vocal delivery and sprawling guitar work. Watching Miller play off keyboardist Joel Robinson was undeniably a highlight, as the two tore through jam after jam, occasionally weaving lines in and out of each other’s playing.
Like The Black Crowes, Howlin Rain unapologetically lifts its best material from classic and psychedelic rockers of the past, but in an utterly infectious way, and with massive energy and stage presence to boot. The group may have been a bit rough around the edges, but that’s part of the charm.