The Black Crowes: 22 October 2009 - Phoenix

Greg M. Schwartz

Singer/ringleader Chris Robinson was in high spirits as he led the band through a crowd pleasing set that concluded the first leg of the band's fall tour.

The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes

City: Phoenix
Venue: Arizona State Fair
Date: 2009-10-22

There was a gorgeous Southwestern-style sunset happening in the six o'clock hour on this balmy Thursday evening, shedding resplendent hues of pink, orange and purple haze over the Arizona State Fair. It was most kind of Mother Earth to deliver this psychedelic majesty, as attendees would have been otherwise hard-pressed to discern much in the way of Southwestern flavor at the fair. Save for a couple of Native American jewelry booths, visitors could easily have thought they were in Anytown, USA. From the standard carnival rides and games to the homogeneous food and beverage selections, there was little in the way of the regional offerings one might hope for at a state fair.

But the Arizona State Fair still had an ace up the sleeve with its musical entertainment program, bringing in performers such as Bob Dylan and Stone Temple Pilots earlier in the week, and on this night, The Black Crowes. The one-time rock 'n' roll upstarts have been at it for about 20 years now, having grown into savvy rock veterans at this point. But how many classic rock bands have been able to deliver one of the best albums of their career 20 years down the line? You could probably count them on your fingers, maybe even on one hand. The Black Crowes' new double album, Before the Frost... Until the Freeze, is easily one of the best releases of 2009 and of their career. The album's combination of musical depth and maturity is impressive, yet it still retains the free-wheeling rock spirit that launched the band to stardom with their debut LP in 1990. It's the type of stellar offering where you want to hear plenty of new songs performed live on the supporting tour.

I caught the band in Austin, Texas nine days earlier, where they played seven new songs, several of which were among the highlights of the show. I had a birthday to celebrate on this evening, so I took the opportunity to hit the road and catch the band again, attending the event with a college friend who's now a first-year law student at Arizona State. We're both fans of Hunter S. Thompson's classic road trip saga Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so we kid about how we'll be able to go to Vegas in 2012 with a similar journalist/attorney dynamic as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo had in their classic adventures.

My future attorney had advised me earlier in the week that I was likely to be disappointed with the sound at the venue, the old Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He said the acoustics were downright wretched at the Dylan show the previous weekend, as is often the case in outdated arenas. However, he had attended as a general admission attendee, receiving free entry to the show with purchase of a fair ticket, but limiting how close one could get. I assured him that the reserved tickets I'd procured ought to place us in a much better location, and indeed the sound was fine from our floor seats.

There was no opening act and the band opened with “Good Morning Captain”, the lead track from Before the Frost. This show would turn out to have a much different flavor from the Austin show, and indeed most of the tour. The Robinson brothers proceeded to turn the clock back to the early '90s by throwing down both “Sting Me” and “Hard to Handle”, which energized the crowd to a highly rocking level with familiar radio hits. Guitarists Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson were clearly on, with Dickinson ripping smoking hot slide leads all night. Drummer Steve Gorman may have been the MVP of the night though, rocking every tune with a crisp precision and consistent energy that was a constant reminder of what a blessing it is for Black Crowes fans that Gorman is still in the band (the only original member left besides the Robinson brothers).

Singer/ringleader Chris Robinson was in high spirits as he led the band through a crowd pleasing set that concluded the first leg of the band's fall tour. Whether it was due to the fact that the band knew a large portion of the audience was attending on the casual general admission basis, or because the show was wrapping the first leg of the tour before a two week break, the band clearly made a decision to play more of the hits than usual. The first big jam of the night occurred next in “Wiser Time”, the classic road tune from the band's third album in 1994. It was here that anyone who'd never seen the band before, such as my future attorney, would have the realization that this is a band that gets into some serious jamming. The entire unit gelled here for a majestic sound devoted to finding that hot night where “We can part the sea”.

The second, and surprisingly the last, new song of the evening followed with the funky “I Ain't Hiding”, a retro tune that sounds related to the Rolling Stones' “Miss You”. The band then hit 2008's Warpaint with the hard rocking “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” which kept the energy level high. The Robinsons dug deep into the repertoire next for one of the major highlights of the evening with the triumphant “Soul Singing” from 2000's Lions. Rich Robinson's melodic licks set the tone, while brother Chris sang of transcending tough times to get one's mojo working again. Backing vocalists Charity White and Mona Lisa Young combined with Robinson for splendid harmonies that had thousands of souls singing and dancing.

That energy was directed straight into 1992's “Thorn in My Pride”, perhaps the band's greatest jam vehicle. The longtime fan favorite never fails to disappoint and this would be another classic rendition, with bassist Sven Pipien and keyboardist Adam MacDougall shining particularly brightly throughout the tune's many twists and turns. Chris Robinson was also at his best on the signature song that has nods to both the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones, but which ultimately sounds like no one else besides the Black Crowes. A huge guitar workout brought the crowd to peak ecstasy before giving way to one of the great cathartic piano codas of rock history.

The ballad “Oh Josephine” followed, providing a bit of a breather, though the tune has a unique poignancy as it seems to be a thinly veiled lament about Chris Robinson's 2006 breakup with actress/ex-wife Kate Hudson. The band cranked things right back up in a major way by going back to their debut album for both “Twice as Hard” and “Jealous Again”, another triumphant blast of the new classic rock sound that made the band famous. Witnessing those tunes performed back-to-back in 2009 was quite a throwback, and the band just kept digging deep as they followed with “Remedy”, the classic hit from their second album, for a triple shot of full-on early '90s rock glory. The charged sequence saw the entire crowd grooving as patrons basked in the glow of the melodious cure that only great rock 'n' roll can deliver to the soul.

The lights sadly went up after “Remedy” though – what, no encore? It had been 90 minutes (the same amount of time the band played in Austin, though most shows on the tour were at least two hours.) Stubbs' BBQ in Austin had a specific curfew, and apparently so did the Arizona State Fair for some odd reason. It was strange because the show started right at 7 pm, and now it was ending at a mere 8:30? It's hard to understand why the fair couldn't let a band go for two hours, especially when they started at an unusually early hour. There's few state fairs bringing in this kind of high quality musical entertainment, so hats are still off to the organizers, and to the band for making it 90 minutes to remember with an extra festive set that was a clear anomaly on the tour with its heavily old school vibe.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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