THE BLACK CROWES: LIVE (2002)
1) Midnight From The Inside Out; 2) Sting Me; 3) Thick 'n' Thin; 4) Greasy Grass River; 5) Sometimes Salvation; 6) Cursed Diamond; 7) Miracle To Me; 8) Wiser Time; 9) Girl From A Pawnshop; 10) Cosmic Friend; 11) Black Moon Creeping; 12) High Head Blues; 13) Title Song; 14) She Talks To Angels; 15) Twice As Hard; 16) Lickin'; 17) Soul Singing; 18) Hard To Handle; 19) Remedy.
Upon first thought, the Black Crowes look like a band ideally suited for robust live performance. Upon second thought, it can be predicted with a high degree of reliability that their live albums will probably suck harder than their studio ones. Clumsy, cumbersome, all rock and very little roll in the presence of recording equipment and mixing consoles, there is no good reason why they should suddenly turn into a flexible, agile, perfectly oiled, high-rolling musical machine in the presence of an army of loyal fans.
Live, their first official full-fledged LP (actually, double CD) of concert performances (not counting Live At The Greek that they did two years before with Jimmy Page, playing Led Zeppelin songs all night long), confirms the suspicion. The Black Crowes in concert sound just like The Black Crowes in the studio. The only difference is that brother Rich tends to add more distortion to his six-string, because surely this is the shortest and most reliable way to bring down the roof without having to wreck your brain in search of a more complex solution. However, it just makes the band noisier, rather than more aggressive.
Then there is the setlist. The album was recorded on October 30-31, 2001, at the Orpheum in Boston, so, naturally, there is a lot of tracks from Lions, which the brothers were promoting at the time. But other than that, the setlist is almost completely dominated by songs from their first two (the most commercially and critically successful) records. The other three are, at best, represented by one or two tracks — and at worst, not represented at all: By Your Side, which I personally insist to be one of their best, simply does not exist. Instead, we get track after track of their slowest, sludgiest, mind-numbing-est material (ʽSometimes Salvationʼ? ʽTitle Songʼ? you gotta be kidding me!), which they play with total conviction, as if it were real hot stuff, but it only makes matters worse in the long run. I mean, maybe if I saw that they were as disinterested in this material as it is uninteresting, that would at least count for something.
But what makes matters worse is the stage banter — the boys (I'm assuming that it is brother Chris who does most of the talking?) alternate between platitudes, nonsense, and bad jokes as if this was as much a part of their job as the playing and singing. Example: "this is a song about the cosmos... I wanted to write a song about drag racing, but I don't know anything about it, so I wrote a song about the cosmos instead!" That's about as profound as it gets — and then, of course, they go and play ʽCosmic Friendʼ, which does contain verbal references to the cosmos, but has less to do with it musically than any given five seconds from Jimi's Electric Ladyland, just to name an off-the-top-of-my-head example of a genuine «cosmic» product.
Technically, the band is in fine form, with everybody doing as much as possible with this rotten material, and the recording quality is also perfectly adequate, yet I am still forced to issue a disappointed thumbs down, because for the life of me I cannot understand why even a big fan of the band would want to listen to these versions — there is nothing spontaneous going on here, just louder, slightly cruder recreations of the band's studio act, represented by inferior selections.