The Black Crowes, Warpaint – Live in Los Angeles, Blu-ray (2009)
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment EVBRD 33337-9
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: English DTS Master Audio 5.1, Dolby 5.1, PCM Stereo
Length: 103 minutes
A former co-worker and friend of mine really has a bad taste in his mouth for the Black Crowes; back in the eighties, when they were still unsigned to a record contract and were known in the Atlanta area as Mr. Crowes Garden, he played guitar in another local band locked with them in a fierce competition to get signed by a major label. Of course, the Black Crowes won out, and he’s bitterly complained now for decades that they were “just playing cover tunes, like everybody else, and how they ever conned Columbia Records that they were anything other than a bar band just baffles me!” Unfortunately, and while I empathize with his sour grapes, I have to be honest – the Black Crowes successfully reinvented themselves and went on to become a truly dynamic and authentically rootsy amalgamation of rock, blues and southern deep-fried funk. Especially on their first three albums, which showed a wide range of influences, from The Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, Otis Redding and possibly even The Grateful Dead. But by the time they released the album By Your Side in 1999, they were no longer experiencing the critical and commercial success of their previous years, and were eventually dropped by their record label. As time went on, the pressures of success and tensions within the band eventually splintered the group (some would say it was Chris Robinson’s marriage to actress Kate Hudson that strained the relationship), and the group went on hiatus in 2002.
After three brief years, the Black Crowes reunited in 2005, and sold out five nights at San Francisco’s Fillmore, an event that was captured by Eagle Rock on the Blu-ray concert disc Freak ‘n’ Roll into the Fog, released in 2006. While that concert was superbly entertaining, the Blu-ray release was something of a mixed bag, and unfortunately, that curse carries over to this new Blu-ray disc, which is a live reworking of the 2008 album Warpaint, which was released on the band’s own independent label. Warpaint saw the Crowes shifting away from some of the rock star posturing of the past, and focusing more on the blues, gospel and southern rock roots of their earlier days. While I found the studio incarnation of the album initially entertaining, it really didn’t wear well for me with extended replays. This live Blu-ray finds them re-imagining the album with extended versions of the songs that give the band members plenty of room to stretch out, and essentially breathes new life into the tunes, making them so much more enjoyable and ultimately more listenable than on the studio counterpart to this new live disc.
The songs all hearken back to an earlier time for the Crowes stylistically, and they really show their southern rock roots on songs like “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” “Oh Josephine” and “Evergreen,” with second guitarist Luther Dickinson offering some really tasty guitar runs on the latter two numbers. The overall feel of “Locust Street” reminded me a lot of the songs on Delaney and Bonnie’s classic album On Tour with Eric Clapton – as a matter of fact, two of the songs later on in the concert, “Poor Elijah” and “Don’t Know Why” were co-written by Delaney Bramlett, and the Crowes really seem to have soaked up that influence throughout this performance. Rich Robinson’s tremolo guitar intro to “Movin’ On Down The Line” has an incredible sixties feel to it, and could have been culled from any of a number of albums from that decade – this may be the single best song on the entire disc! On “God’s Got It,” drummer Steve Gorman comes out with a drum major’s cap and coat on, beating a big bass drum while Chris Robinson delivers the song with the conviction of an old-time Baptist street preacher! “Torn and Frayed,” borrowed from Exile on Main Street, offers a clever nod to the Rolling Stones from a band so often compared to those elder statesmen.
Unfortunately, this newest Blu-ray from Eagle Rock suffers from many of the same anomalies that plagued their previous hi-res concert disc; the image quality is highly inconsistent, with a fairly high level of video noise and some frequent image artifacting. And the overall clarity of the picture varies widely as well, with the image seeming frequently soft – so very soft on occasion, that it seems almost totally out of focus, with an almost complete loss of detail occasionally evident. And at times, the image looked almost completely posterized! I generally can give a concert setting a great deal of leeway in terms of picture content as long as the audio portion of the presentation is rock solid, but that’s unfortunately not the case here, either. Regardless of which option I chose, the bass seemed almost one-note and quite boomy, and Chris Robinson’s vocals regularly seemed almost buried in the final mix. It took a fairly extensive amount of fiddling with the knobs to get the sound reasonably listenable, but from that point on it was quite acceptable.
While I still really did enjoy this concert presentation – especially from a performance perspective – it left quite a bit to be desired from a technical standpoint. I’m sure that a certain portion of the visual direction was probably an artistic decision by the filmmakers, but don’t expect this one to win any awards for its image clarity. I almost need to break apart the rating for this one: four stars for the performance, two stars for the technical presentation, so it averages to three stars. Still, fans of the band will find it essential watching, and the group’s excellent chops will make the effort worth your while. Recommended.
TrackList: Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution; Walk Believer Walk; Oh Josephine; Evergreen; Wee Who See The Deep; Locust Street; Movin’ On Down The Line; Wounded Bird; God’s Got It; There’s Gold In Them Hills; Whoa Mule; Poor Elijaj/Tribute To Johnson; Darling Of The Underground; Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye; Don’t Know Why; Torn And Frayed; Hey Grandma.
– Tom Gibbs