The Black Crowes
House of Blues, Wednesday, July 30
It's hard to believe the Black Crowes have been around for over two decades.Through countless personal battles and a merry-go-round of complementary musicians, the brothers Robinson have persevered and have finally found themselves on steady ground.Ê For the past three years now, Chris and Rich Robinson have been out on the road, performing some of the best music of their career while returning to what made them popular: jamming.No more onstage feuding - just pure Southern rock, and for two hours the Crowes wooed a packed House of Blues doing just that on the second night of a pair of sold-out shows in support of this year's Warpaint.
With North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson replacing Marc Ford on lead guitar, the Crowes now have their most formidable guitarist ever.Dickinson is one of the best in the business. He's a natural at the instrument, and his frequent duels with Rich Robinson made the concert a standout."Wee Who See the Deep" was the perfect canvas for this give-and-take, and other lengthy jams only benefited from the pair's one-two punch.As good as the guitar combo is, though, the Crowes continue to be led by Chris Robinson. Whether he's doing his peacock moves during jams or adding a soulful harmonica or acoustic guitar, he drives the band and transforms average studio tracks like "Whoa Mule" or "Evergreen" into unique and energized songs in concert. In addition, he interacts perfectly with the band's backup singers and other musicians.While the songs of Warpaint made up the majority of the set, the band's classics came off best."Thorn in My Pride," "Sister Luck" and "Jealous Again," along with the encore of "Cold Rain and Snow" and CSNY's "Ohio," broke up the set enough to let the band toy around with the newer numbers.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals opened the show with their own brilliant, soaring Southern rock. Armed with a massive set of pipes and a Flying V guitar, Potter and her band could have easily headlined - and hopefully will have the opportunity soon. -- Aaron Mendelsohn
House of Blues, Friday, August 1
Compared to the complex, layered '90s albums that defined Spiritualized's artistic identity, recent releases have shifted toward a simpler, more straightforward rock direction. As a result, before this tour began, there was no telling how the band's live shows might be evolving. This concert's opening moments held reassuring promise for longtime fans: Tides of sustained electronic tones (harking back to the Pure Phase disc) drifted into an avalanche of dissonant psych guitars and a soulful vocal delivery of the hymn "Amazing Grace." And so it came to pass that live, Spiritualized still relied foremost on its proven, odd neo-psychedelic formula of Stooges/Velvet Underground raw noise, traditional gospel/blues and gently hummable shoegazer pop.
In the group's native Britain, some of its concerts have featured Polyphonic Spree-sized spectacles, with gospel choirs and horn and string sections. Tour economics have prevented shows like that here, but this particular concert added a female black gospel vocal duo, with stunning results. The gals' ethereal "ooh-ah" vocals and earthy, dramatic lyric delivery made the sparser and more straightforward songs captivating and the complexly layered tunes even more gloriously epic. The aforementioned opener "Amazing Grace" was immediately followed by "You Lie You Cheat," the most monstrously fuzzy rocker from Spiritualized's new Songs in A&E CD. As the tune swirled into a chaotic musical hurricane, the gospel ladies anchored it all with their unwavering "la-la-las." Moments like that throughout the concert nicely showcased the band's famous skill for building abstract, immersive sound environments that carry the listener with subtly submerging/emerging melody lines. Another of frontman Jason Pierce's greatest strengths as a live performer is his ability to construct climactic set lists that contrast slow, quiet moments with onslaughts of overwhelming intensity. Pierce was in fine form, integrating older and newer songs in dynamic ways - even extending back to his earlier group, Spacemen 3, for a couple of tunes. "Lay Back in the Sun" and an encore-begging "Take Me to the Other Side" stood out as especially exhilarating, but the show was consistently fantastic throughout. - Michael David Toth
Quicken Loans Arena, Sunday, August 3
When I began to listen to music of my own choosing, probably sometime around the age of five, one of the first cassettes I wanted was by Neil Diamond. I had heard "America" on the radio and was instantly enamored with its patriotic lyrics and repetitive chorus, and just had to have it to play in my Fisher-Price tape recorder. However, as I grew older and my musical tastes began to evolve, I thought of myself as much too cool to listen to an aging performer like Diamond. That began to change over the last few years, as Diamond slowly began to receive more and more playtime in my musical rotation, mainly due to his excellent efforts on 12 Songs and Home Before Dark, both produced by Rick Rubin. So when I heard that Diamond was going to perform on a hot August night, I seized the opportunity to attend, knowing this might be my final chance. And from start to finish, for two hours, he was everything I could have imagined, plus more.
Performing with a band a dozen strong, Diamond was awesome and inspiring - moving, singing and performing better than most musicians one-third his age. Unleashing hit after hit, he encouraged the graying crowd (although there were a good number of fans from younger generations) to dance and sing along. "Cherry, Cherry" was one of the first that got the packed arena on its feet, but definitely not the last. "Sweet Caroline" seemed to last forever, with Diamond conducting the crowd, raising his arms as the audience sang every word. He kept the night moving by frequently changing the pace, sitting on a stool to croon "I Am … I Said" and "Solitary Man," then strapping on a guitar for "Kentucky Woman" and "I'm a Believer." Diamond disappeared for a brief moment after a rousing "Hell Yeah," then returned for an encore that began with "Cracklin' Rosie" and ended with "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." And in between, he unleashed "America." It sounded better than I remembered, and the entire encore permitted him a final opportunity to shower the audience with his brilliant showmanship. - Aaron Mendelsohn
Blossom Music Center, Monday, August 4
Playing for nearly two and half hours with multiple encores, Radiohead filled the forested Cuyahoga Valley National Park with its singular sonic sounds. The five-piece from England brought the capacity crowd to its feet for the entire show at Blossom. Approaching darkness beckoned the band onstage near 9 p.m. Icy electronic droplets began falling from the speakers as frontman Thom Yorke waltzed on and Radiohead burst into "15 Step," the glitchy avant-rock opener from its latest full-length, In Rainbows.
The band delved right into the new album, splicing "All I Need," "Nude" and "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" in between classics like "Morning Bell" and "There There." Yorke set the pace, with the pulse of his falsetto vocals bursting over each song, pouring over the pavilion and lawn. When he fell into a convulsive trance during the techno anthem "Idioteque," the crowd moved with fury, and when he clawed his acoustic six-string during OK Computer's slow opus "Lucky," it groaned in unison. Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood (infamous for his score to the film There Will Be Blood) provided the evening's mood, texturing every song with feedback and squeals, sawing his guitar with a violin bow on "Pyramid Song" and jabbing effects pedals on "The National Anthem."
The stage show was synced to the entire set list, and the band was surrounded by immense hanging translucent chimes that reflected reds and greens to the music's mood (from eerie electro-rock to warm love ballads) while fuzzed-out video screens projected images of the ensemble up close all evening. The audience (a mob of young and old white hipsters) reveled in nearly 25 songs, though the band shied away from big hits like "Creep" and "Karma Police." When the second and final encore ended with a funk-infused version of "Everything in Its Right Place," the crowd crawled into the night, still full of musical energy, galvanized by one of the great arena-rock bands still touring mega-venues like Blossom. Brooklyn's indie-experimenters Grizzly Bear opened the concert, drowning out the late afternoon sun with their hazy, psychedelic folk melodies. - Keith Gribbins