Down time and change are good for the Black Crowes, allowing the band to keep a decent edge on its brand of classically rooted rock ’n’ roll.
The Black Crowes came to the House of Blues on Thursday as part of a tour that ends the band’s 2½-year hiatus from the road. Jackie Greene, who has gone from bluesy singer-songwriter to jam-band utility player, is now in the second guitar role across from founding member Rich Robinson. The band also cut the female back-up singers that were behind vocalist Chris Robinson, and the percussion player that occasionally teamed with drummer Steve Gorman was nowhere in sight.
This was a band getting back to basics and rebuilding its stage attack, much like it did in 2005 following its first extended leave.
Greene is still feeling his way into the band, brandishing clean, piercing solos and less textured work compared to his predecessor, Luther Dickinson. Greene’s lean style meant that keyboard player Adam MacDougall bumped up in the mix during the lengthier jams. It also meant that the band sounded most confident on the straight-ahead rock ’n’ soul numbers.
Seemingly aware of this dynamic, the Crowes came out with tightly arranged versions of “Jealous Again,” “Thick ’n’ Thin,” and “Hotel Illness.”
Without new material to proffer on this tour, cover tunes were the only fresh additions to the show. The trippy soul of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” felt right in the Crowes’ hands, as did a version of the urgent “Hush” tucked into the band’s trademark cover of “Hard to Handle.”
While the guitar team is developing its chemistry, singer Chris Robinson was a solid anchor for the proceedings. He soared through the heaving blues of “Sometimes Salvation” and bounced through the funk of “High Head Blues.” And even though “She Talks to Angels” is sometimes considered “Crowes lite,” the singer made it his highlight.
The band still stretches out, returning to “Wiser Time” and “Thorn in My Pride” as vehicles for extended travels, as was the case during the pre-hiatus shows. “Wiser Time” is shaping up to be for the Crowes what “Dreams” is for the Allmans — a philosophical psychedelic epic.
The Crowes dug into their catalog for the encores, breaking out Rich Robinson’s spectral “How Much for Your Wings” and the jangled soul of “Bring On, Bring On.” For the last number, the Crowes clicked back into primal mode for a sizzling “Oh Well.”Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1