The Black Crowes bring the road show to Cape Cod
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The Cape Cod Melody Tent is a weird little venue, tucked away on the edge of downtown Hyannis and set on a gravel parking lot that stacks the cars five-by-five, thus ensuring that no one can really leave when the show is over until the last people leave first, then the next row, and so on.
The tent itself seems like a semi-permanent structure, with a rotating stage set rigid for the show on this evening, with separate structures for bathrooms and beer sales, and seemingly no one under the age of 60 working either taking tickets or as ushers. You don’t get to play here without some modicum of success, but the glitzy rock and roll lifestyle it is not. What it is, however, is an intimate venue best served by a nice day (and it was a nice day, which gave way to one of those perfectly warm-but-cool evenings).
The Black Crowes, not long ago, played the main stage at Bonnaroo and headlined Madison Square Garden. Later this year, they’ll wrap up a year-long tour with six shows at San Francisco’s historic Fillmore before taking an extended break as a band. So, dire hypothetical financial situations aside, they don’t necessarily need to play a dinky, albeit charming, little place like this.
But they play on anyway. And along with all the shows at the Fillmore, or Atlanta’s Tabernacle, or Boston’s House of Blues, or the Chicago Theatre, they play the Cape Cod Melody Tent, and New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, and Burlington’s Higher Ground. They play everywhere that will have them. They play to 20,000 people or 300. They play long, winding sets, loaded with flashes of the blues and country and psychedelia and the kind of rock and roll that would make Chuck Berry smile.
It’s all so fitting for a band that went through so many personality changes in the first half of their career. They were introduced to the world as baby faced revivalists of rock and roll, a Faces- and Rolling Stones-based answer to Motley Crue and Poison, and morphed into the face of the “Legalize It” hippie stoner movement of the mid-nineties. Some personnel changes took place, and suddenly they pared back the jamming, started wearing make-up, and fancied themselves a T. Rex-type glam band for the new millenium. Next, they hooked up with Jimmy Page, and for the next two years, they were essentially the best classic rock band in the world. Finally, they went on hiatus, over tired and exhausted by the previous eleven years. They were one of my favorite bands at that point, but even I would have had a hard time telling you what kind of band they were, beyond calling them “good.”
Now? There’s no doubt as to who they are, from the audience’s perspective or theirs. They are road-tested, lifelong musicians, minstrels bringing their sound as many places as they can. Gone are the surface aesthetics that they once clung to so firmly. They set up their gear, they take the stage likely wearing what they had all day (on this day, frontman Chris Robinson in a black shirt, jeans, and his too-great-to-fake-it beard, brother and guitarist Rich in a flannel shirt), and they happily crank out another two hour, fifteen-minute show.
Starting with the Lions-era classic, “Soul Singing,” then to one of their first hits, “Twice as Hard,” and blues-based deep tracks from their middle period, like “Good Friday” and “Wiser Time” fill the set. There’s a lot of jamming, especially on “Thorn in My Pride,” which starts with an extended introduction and takes several drum and harp-driven blues detours before winding up in a natural resting spot. And, to wrap up the festivities, an encore featuring their biggest hit, “She Talks to Angels,” and a song made classic by the Band in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, “Don’t Do It.” Through it all, the common denominator was a tight, nasty sound that wasn’t afraid to take the road less travelled.
Like the Band, there’s very little pretense in the music these days. Since getting back together in 2005, the Black Crowes have been very comfortable with who they are, and they present themselves to whoever will have them. On this night, in a weird little tent on Cape Cod, they brought their sound to about 1,500 happy folks, packed up at the end of the night and rolled on to the next stop. Finally, it is just who the Black Crowes are now.