CLEARWATER — One of the great mysteries of rock is how jammy stoner bands — the Grateful Dead, Phish, Moe, puff puff pass — manage to swap out entire set lists show after show. Seriously, dude, they manage to remember 20 different epic tunes a night, but I bet they get lost on their own tour bus.
Eighteen years after debut smash Shake Your Money Maker, the Black Crowes now have the massive catalog and the Bic scars to rival such high-falutin' company. What makes the Atlanta band different from the rest, however, is that bros Chris and Rich Robinson are (1) the rare angry, sparring tokers and (2) the rare angry, sparring tokers with a delicious pop sensibility. They might have lost their minds and their cool, but they never lost their hooks.
Touring in support of new album Warpaint, and sporting a secret weapon in guitarist-for-hire Luther Dickinson, the Crowes invaded sober Ruth Eckerd Hall Monday for a two-hour show in front of 1,959 rowdy fans. If you came expecting hits, you were bummin'. But if you craved deep cuts of kudzu-coated Southern rock, it was a total score.
With the thick stink of incense wafting through the venue (and instantly taking me back to my disastrous first year of college), the Crowes opened with the grindy crunch of Movin' on Down the Line. Looking like a cross between Ichabod Crane and a hobo, Chris Robinson led the way with a vocal yelp that blended sweet soul and mystic spaceout.
And as usual, he provided a few classic quotes. He dubbed the show "a futuristic sock hop," but warned that "no robots are allowed." "I can say that, because this is America," he continued. "We are antirobots here. And it takes a lot of courage to say these things." And with that, Chris continued rocking.
For the new Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution, as joyously catchy as anything in the Crowes' songbook, Dickinson took up the glass slide and slinked all over his guitar. On loan from the North Mississippi Allstars, Dickinson was a marvel, turning Paint an 8 into a Deep Purple breakdown.
The middle of the show was (relatively) acoustic — although the whole show was at times brutally loud. The shaggy crew turned into sweethearts of the rodeo for a cover of You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til the Well Runs Dry) and a sing-along take on Bob Dylan's Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).
Not until the end did they unload one of their own well-knowns, kicking into the piano boogie of Jealous Again. That sucker goes way back to 1990, but the smirky, blissed-out Robinson remembered every single word. A mystery, I tell ya.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.