I had forgotten just how beautiful New York State can be. I grew up in western NY and spent some time in the central Finger Lakes Region in my early college days, appreciating the greenery, the lakes, the change of seasons, especially the beautiful fall foliage. The show was being held at the Brewery Ommegang – brewery ommygod! What a lovely spot, tucked into the hills of Cooperstown, NY, a quaint place along the southern edge of Ostego Lake, just east of the Finger Lakes (although not named as one of them, although there are 11 of them, so how Onondaga, Cazenovia, Canadarago and Ostego got skipped, I dunno. Go further east and you are in the Lake George Region…… New York has alotta lakes). It was a beautiful day and the weather man said the evening would be the same, although a firm warning to dress warm. The concert was to be held outside, in back of the Brewery, on their very large, spacious lawn. I kind of wish they had allowed the Brewery to stay open so those of us who had never been there before could get a peek inside. I suppose it was best to keep the doors closed, to keep everyone outside where the real party was happening.
It sure got mighty chilly out there when the sun went down behind the mountain. But, the crowd was happy, the staff friendly and the beer yummy. They offered six selections of their brew – a BPA (yummy, crisp Belgian), Witte (traditional white Belgian wheat, little clove and orange), Hennepin (loved this one, hoppy, crisp, little bite of ginger and crisp lemon), Rare Vos (their amber Ale, mellow caramel, fruit and hop, also a good one), Abbey (listed as the Brewery’s first brew, its a rich beer, malty, good flavor). I tried all but one, the 3 Philosphers, their dark brew that had lactose in it to make it smooth and creamy, (I’m dairy intolerant so took no chances). Go check out their site (ommegang.com) and look at their list of historical and limited edition brews – incredible! They set up a food truck, ATM truck, merch table with Ommegang stuff, Crowes stuff, London Souls stuff….. What a beautiful place to have a concert. I highly encourage more, more, more!
Oh, and if you are a baseball fan at all, even just a little, Cooperstown is the home of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame, two bat companies (one with the largest wooden baseball bat on display at a retail store), a Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum (those places always creep me out, just a tad), baseball camps (we hear that over 1,500 kids come there each week to play in the summer), 300 yards of greens. We hit the Fennimore Museum and there is also a huge Farmer’s Museum which looked pretty cool. You could also hit the Cooperstown Beverage Trail, taking you to six different breweries and wineries in the area – after all, this was one of the largest hop-producing centers in American history.
On to the music! The Crowes invited The London Souls to open the show. I did get a chance to see them play a short set this summer at Mountain Jam (June, Hunter Mountain, Warren Hayne’s thang), although sans Stu on bass (rumor he was ill and couldn’t make it) so I knew a little bit about who they were. A three-piece rock n’ roll gig out of New York City, together since 2008 (according to the Wiki), there was a cross between Lenny Kravitz and a little Jimmi, or maybe a little Cream or Led Zeppelin, with even sounds of some blues done Taj Mahal way – a little reggae, a little blues, a little heavy electric; clearly guitar-driven sound, that still offers up that danceable, rockin’ jam.
Opening with a song titled, “Some Day”, it gave a cross between the Taj reggae-feel blues that, in one moment, exposes you to some heavy hitting guitar, a shout to Jimmi Hendrix, that you feel deep down, to your rock soul. A really big sound from three guys – guitar, bass, drums that’s it. Very Hendrix Experience-like, or even kind of like that sound you get from The Black Keys, just raw, driven, and really powerful. They’ve got two discs out, one as recently as January of this year. They’ve been touring a bit with The Black Crowes and the Tedeski-Trucks Band, and have appeared at a number of summer music festivals such as Mountain Jam (as mentioned) and Lockn’, unexpectedly killin’ it with the crowds.
“Old Country Road” – really liked this one. Heavy on the drum beat, strong on the bass line, jamming guitar, makes you want to move more than just a little. The lead guitar and singer, Tash Neal, could totally pull off a sick Lenny Kravitz for Halloween. Chris St.Hilaire, on drums, also takes the mic here and there for lead. The bass player, Stu Mahan, big tall dude with the derby hat. Since I didn’t know much about The London Souls, of course I looked ’em up on the wide-world-web. Gotta luv a guy who has a pic of himself with the Red Hat Society as his profile. Dude, you get to wear a red hat when you break 50, so until then, your derby should be pink. Back to the song, about selling your soul on a country road, offered with some nice, strong, synchronized harmonies going on between Tash and Chris, keeping it danceable with Stu’s funky bass, this one really got the crowd up and moving.
“Steady Are You Ready” is a slow, heavy, low beat, with a screamin guitar solo that rips the song open. “Come across the ocean. Come across the ocean for me. Come a little closer, take a look around. Steady are you ready for my bed tonight?” Eh-hem, well, Tash……. A very Lenny Kravitz-ish, leaning to Zeppelin-like, shake your hips sexy blues. Chris hits the drums with determined furry, demanding the slow, bumpin beat from Tash and Stu, driving the song harder and heavier to your soul.
“Under Control” a bit slower beat, gives the audience a little rest from the the first four heavy-hitters. You know, I change my mind. There is no rest for the London Souls, as the lyrics explain, “Ain’t no rest for the weary. Ain’t no calm from the storm. You got locked in the freezer, and you just can’t get warm. If you want it you got it. Under control!” This moves from the slow rock to this three-voice round, with each one singing a different part, over the other. Looping the words, “you got it, under control. Under control” over and around each other, with just the drums and bass, softly keeping the beat, fading the song down to a whisper.
What sounded like a song called, “Sweet Baby” or maybe “Sweet Thing”, noting I could not find a song of that name on either of their releases, but the jam on this morphed into “Yes We Can, Can” – you know, the old Allen Toussaint song made famous by the Pointer Sisters “And I know we can make it. (I know that we can) I know darn well we can work it out. (Yes we can, I know we can can, yes we can can, why can’t we? If we wanna yes, we can can!).” OK, and I can’t believe I just mentioned the Pointer Sisters in the same article as both The London Souls and The Black Crowes. Very opposite spectrum!
A short, 4-minute pulsating jam titled, “Goin’ Down” closes their incredibly heavy-blues-zeppelinesque-rocking set. This is a song (written by Leon Russell and Don Nix) made famous by Freddie King, known as one of the “Three Kings” of blues along with Albert King and B.B. King, and also famous for songs such as “Hide Away” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”. You know it, “I’m goin’ down. I’m goin’ down, down, down, down, down. I swear I hear a keyboard on this one, maybe Adam MacDougall snuck out to the stage, I saw him enjoying the London Souls from the crowd earlier so who knows. Chris was up on stage left, smiling and dancing, havin’ a time watching them warm up the crowd. I had read that Freddie King had performed at the same festival along side the likes of Led Zeppelin, in 1969 at the Texas Pop Festival. Well, that just brings it all full-circle, with The London Souls having such a Zeppelin-like, heavy guitar-driven blues sound.
Thanks to the guitar-driven hitting blues from The London Souls, the crowd was drained but seriously ready for more rock and roll. People were packing in even tighter, vying for their spot in front of the stage – in front of Chris, or Rich, or Sven or Jackie. People tend to have their spots. I was happy to have the photo pit, it was plenty of space for the four of us who got our photo passes and certainly way better than having to get inside super early to hold onto space, or to nudge my way through the crowd and keep up the “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” and “can I just squeeze by you” or “can I get in front of you for this song” discussions I’ve had at other venues. Most fans are accommodating, you hand them your card and tell them the pics will be posted, thank them and move on. Most fans. Some fans are trees, have genealogy in the Oak family, or their family tree is made of steel or iron – not gonna move. Nope. Well, allrightythen.
Opening with a slightly stretchier, slower-grinding, “Under a Mountain”, the Crowes hit the stage smiling and ready to rock. This was their first show scheduled after their short, two-week break at the end of August. “So I’m under a mountain. Stuck to this mattress. Perfume and valium…. Lay down with number thirteen…” Well, that line is the name of their tour, Lay Down with No. 13 – offering a free copy of an acoustic version of the song in their new mobile app. Rich gives this song a funky rhythm, backed by a demanding pulse from Sven’s bass; Jackie’s slide keeps it on the gooier side of jammy.
“Sting Me” is filled with high energy, purposeful and hard hitting beats to back the lyrics, “If you feel like a riot, then don’t you deny it!”. I like the back and forth solid lyrics from Chris, alternating with harmonies from Rich, Sven and Jackie, even those you can’t see. Funny, Adam MacDougall is their keyboard player – you can hear him but sometimes not see. He’s there, for sure, laying down the electrified funkiness. I find myself dancing, getting into this one in the pit, I look up just as Chris tosses his mic into the air, catches it, slams it to the stage, puts his hand on his hip, his hand in the air, and then dances around in a circle – exactly! I’ve brought friends who’ve never seen the Crowes with me to the past two shows, and each has remarked what a showman Chris is, the perfect frontman, a passionate and soulful lyricist with the ability to draw you in to his joy just by watching him.
Scooted out of the pit after two songs – yep, that seems to be the general tolerance of The Black Crowes, even the security was scratching their heads, that most shows they do allow for three songs. Nope, not The Black Crowes – but, really, no biggie, just more of a bummer. They are so into it from chord one, they are so animated and give such expression and energy in their performance, that you can really get some nice shots, some telling shots, some key shots in the first two anyway. But, because they are so animated and give you so much of a performance, two songs never seems long enough!
The crowd-reactions for “Twice as Hard”, “Jealous Again”, and “Remedy” showed they wanted to rock. I think the whole place sang in harmony, dancing around, hands in the air, smiles on their faces, joy in their hearts. I bet the local radio stations just teased everyone non-stop with those songs the week of the show, get everyone primed and ready! “She Talks to Angels”, placed gently down, sweetly poured over the crowd, and brought even those sitting further back on the lawn up a bit closer to the stage. Jackie picks up the mandolin to accompany Rich on the acoustic, both standing behind Chris. With the full moon behind his head, clenching his fist and gripping the mic, Chris sings about her pain, how she talks to angels, and they call her out by her name. You could hear a pin drop, even the crickets hushed for this one.
“Virtue & Vice” continued the rock style out of “Twice as Hard”, but with a softer ending. Seemingly a song about the energy you get from a new friend, a new relationship, living in the moment, feeling alive because of it, and feeling OK if everything changes. All you have is what you believe in and what you can control, and whether it all really works out is not entirely up to you, but be joyous and thankful for what you had. “You laugh with me, I’ll laugh with you, at all the stupid things we do. Tomorrow, we’ll be happy.”
“No Use Lying” and “Non-Fiction” were the two heavier, spacier, jammier songs. Powerful and heavy hitting song, “No Use Lying” might be about being torn between loving someone and knowing it should end. But, you can’t help but fall victim to their touch, their look, and their lies. The beat hits you purposefully, like feet stomping out the door. A ten minute “Non-Fiction”, puts a dreamy haze over the crowd; the eeriness to Adam’s keys runs up your spine, the smoothness of the guitar swirling out in the smoke just over the crowd, you could almost reach out and grab it. An ethereal feeling of space and time, a song that might have conjured up the clouds that conspired over our heads.
The crowd gets lifted up for the next, with “Shine Along”, dancing around and singing with Chris, “someday love is gonna take me home!” This song is so full of life – it makes you want to dance big, spread your arms wide, maybe accidentally hug someone. Ooops!
“Wiser Time” gives each a chance to show their stuff – maybe why I like this song so much. Leading off, Adam’s solo, his fingers dancing and leaping on the keys to the real pleasure of the crowd, then Sven hits you deep to your bones, his bass vibrating your being; Rich and Jackie take over with a bit of melded rhythm, leading into Jackie’s solo that brings it to that sweet space, hangs there for a minute before he and Rich exchange again. Jackie starts out sweet but then ripps it up and open, fast on the fret and strings, kicking his legs, tossing his body. Then Rich speaks back, strong, with the heavy, low-down, purposeful guitar, standing experienced, playing wiser from the time. I friggin’ dig this song. The place was silent, absorbing every ounce of the story, the lesson that, “Well, on a good day, well, I know it ain’t every day, we can farther see. Well, on a bad day, well, I know it ain’t every day, glory beyond our reach.” Incredible. Seriously incredible guitar.
“Oh Sweet Nuthin’”, led by Rich, is done in beautifully harmony. A song from Lou Reed’s days with the Velvet Underground, this slows the crowd to a smooth sway, back and forth, listening intently to the story of Jimmy Brown who had nothing at all to his name; the homeless and depressed Ginger Brown, with no shoes on his feet; and Polly May who lives on the street night and day; or poor Joanna Love always falling in and out of love, way too easy….. Oh, sweet nuthin. Maybe life is sweeter that way, to not having anything to posses or be responsible for, and being OK with that, is that really the reward? Or is it about drug use? You’d give the shirt off your back, the shoes off your feet, or live on the street, turning tricks for the next fix? It is a Velvet Underground song, after all, so take it for what you will. There is heartbreak in the guitar solos, in the simple chords, the melody and in the harmonies, in the way this song feels. I cannot get this song out of my head, humming it every day since. It really was a beautifully done rendition. Other bands can cover this, but they can’t touch the version The Black Crowes give you. Sweet nuthin for sure.
“Thorn in my Pride” is a celebration song – the good and the bad, the pain and joy, the half empty glass, because that’s what life is; imperfect, emotional, difficult, joyous, free and filled with possibilities. This song stretches out along the musical landscape for nearly 15 minutes, changing from a slow rock song, down the road to a southern gospel, and then blows out the church doors for a hard rockin’ end. My favorite part of this song comes right after the incredible harmonica from Chris and two ace solos between Jackie and Rich, the song starts to slow down to that southern, sunday pace. Adam lightly marches on the piano, you start feeling like you are headed into the church, then it changes to a smooth glide as Jackie, Sven and Rich harmonize, “Lover, cover me with your sleep,” as you head down the isle, filing into the pew. Chris gives the crowd that gritty throat, southern minister command, “Ooooohhhhhh, got to feel it, got to feel it, want to let it shine, let it, let it, let it, let it shine on oh-oo-on!…. I said everybody. Oh, everybody here this evening! Everybody won’t you help us, yeah, won’t you let it shine, let it shine, shine, shine!” And the place goes crazy!
I listened to an interview with Chris and Rich from over a decade ago. Chris describes how he intends their music to be, what he hopes the experience brings to the audience:“I am interested in celebrating. And, sometimes you have to weep and moan in a celebration; it’s a service…. and, you weep and moan to get to the joy…. I would like to think that The Black Crowes live experience is…. the songs are about celebrating life and life experience, the dark and the light, the confusion and the clarity, because balance is very important” Try and make life beautiful, something to celebrate. I think they’ve accomplished that, and much more.
Chris asks the crowd, “Do you feel good? I said, do you feel alright? Under the stars tonight! Let’s go!” and the place explodes in response to the start of “Remedy”, another hard rockin’ song, that, about 6 minutes in, turns into this crazy spacial, jammy, extended weirdness of guitar overlays, voice looping, echos in your head. Echos from the center of the music, the drums from deep in the jungle, that loop up and around, and landing you on Mars. Even as the song ends and the band leaves the stage, I hear people around me singing, “remedy, remedy, remedy!”, maybe trying to keep that spacial, echoing, crazy loop last just a little longer.
A double encore is always a treat! “Magic Rooster Blues”, a song found on a 2007 live release, Brothers of a Feather: Live at the Roxy and no other album (that I’ve found anyway). I didn’t really know it well, but really like the southern feel, the rockin’ danceablility of it, the big whisky sound – “Make a little morning out of my midnight, whisper in my ear, baby, it’s alright. Come and put some holes, baby, in them shoes. Come and sail away in the magic rooster blues.” As they start in with the second encore, “Willin’”, I hear a guy next to me shout, “No shit, Willin’” – and I think, yeah, my sentiments exactly. Who doesn’t love this Lowell George – Little Feat song!! “If you give me, weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, well, I’ll be willin’, to be movin’.” With the big flower, spinning around and around, on the screen, right behind Chris’s head. You know, thanks to all of those little videos out there, certainly help to bring the visual memories to the forefront and helps to write it all down; but, they might also let you catch something you didn’t see while at the show. Like the little kiss that Chris blew to someone during “Willin’.” But, the body language and the laughter he shows, it may have been for Rich. Bro-love.
Really a great night, so glad I went, so glad I had to be in New York at the time, so glad to have been close enough to the venue to go, so glad I dragged some friends with me and had such a rockin’ time in a beautiful spot, drinking some pretty awesome beer, under the stars and fireworks, and seeing one of the greatest rock bands out there today. Yes.
Favorite “pre-show” moment: Seeing Chris and the crew playing frisbee in the field next to the Brewery. Nice day for a game of catch on the lawn for sure.
Favorite song: Thorn in My Pride. It just has so many moments, so many changes, and you get to go to a sunday sermon in the south.
Favorite “moment” song: She Talks to Angels
Favorite cover song: Its a tie. I can’t decide between “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” by the Velvet Underground or “Willin’” by The Band. Love them both. You decide. Wait, it will be “Oh Sweet Nuthin’”, I have another use for “Willin’”.
Favorite surprise song: Willin’. Kind of thought they’d do the “Hard to Handle>Hush>Hard to Handle” for the central New York State crowd, but this, along with “Magic Rooster Blues” ended up being quite fitting for the brewery along the lake.
Favorite Finale: Fireworks!!! Yes, the Brewery treated the crowd to about five or so minutes of pretty fireworks, blown off behind the stage. See, living in California, in most areas, we haven’t had a fireworks display in years, since all of those fires. No one wants to take any chances!
The Black Crowes (approximately 2 hour set)
Under a Mountain, Sting Me, Twice as Hard, Virtue & Vice, No Use Lying, Non Fiction, Shine Along, Wiser Time, Oh Sweet Nuthin’, She Talks to Angels, Jealous Again, Thorn in My Pride, Remedy E: Magic Rooster Blues, Willin’