When The Black Crowes' album "Shake Your Money Maker" came out in 1990 they were as much an anomaly in the rock world as Nirvana would be the next year. But after their debut and its masterful follow-up "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" they sort of slipped out of the limelight, releasing a few more albums and then disappearing completely. I'm not sure what has driven their recent resurgence (maybe it's lead singer Chris Robinson's surprising marriage to Kate Hudson) but they've resurfaced as a reliable touring band, collaborating with Jimmy Page, playing huge sold out shows and garnering the kind of legitimate credibility usually reserved for bands that didn't utterly disappear for a decade.
It makes sense that their live show is what's put them back on the map since, as the live DVD Freak N' Roll into the Fog makes amply clear, they are absolutely rock solid. Tearing through a 19 song set in this concert taped at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the band doesn't just play songs. They get into a groove and stay there for the full show.
Starting with "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere" the Crowes show how a song can overcome incredible repetition and become almost hypnotic: They repeat the chorus and the bridge so many times I lost count, but they do it with energy and momentum that don't slow the show down. The band (enhanced with backing singers and a horn section) play a couple of great songs from "Southern Harmony" ("Sting Me" and "No Speak No Slave") with that same sense of urgency. In fact, all the electric songs from the set have that classic forward drive, created by the band's crack rhythm section and helped by Robinson's ability to sing like his life depends on it.
When they bring it down for the acoustic section they show their ability to coax a beautiful melody out of a well-written song. Their megahit "She Talks to Angels" sounds particularly sophisticated, especially considering the kind of nonsense that passes for a hit single today; It's hard to imagine something so lovely getting radio play these days.
As the show draws to a close the band tears through great songs like "Seeing Things" (almost reaching gospel-level spirituality), "Hard to Handle" (the Otis Redding cover that put them on the map), and the slinky "Remedy," as thick a song as the band has written. The encore of The Band's "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" is played even slower than the original and is an unusual and soulful end to the show, even if Robinson's affected Southern accent is unnecessary. By the end of the night, however, it's easy to see the Crowes settling into a long career of touring, picking up the kind of loyal fan base that followed the Grateful Dead around, a band whose music they've already bested by a country mile.
1) (Only) Halfway To Everywhere
2) Sting Me
3) No Speak No Slave
4) Soul Singing
5) Welcome To The Goodtimes
6) Jealous Again
7) Space Captain
8) My Morning Song
9) Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz
10) Cursed Diamond
11) She Talks To Angels
12) Wiser Time
13) Non Fiction
14) Seeing Things
15) Hard To Handle
16) Let Me Share The Ride
17) Mellow Down Easy
19) The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down
Shot in HD, the video presented here is very sharp. While the show wasn't shot in a particularly creative way the video is clear enough to at least make for a nice presentation. The editing has the annoying habit of intercutting grainy film footage of the tour cases and backstage area sporadically during the show, sometimes obscuring the band at the starts of songs, but overall it's a fine, if somewhat unimaginative, presentation.
The audio is presented in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. The DTS is the winner here, playing with a tremendous clarity. The instruments are nicely separated and the bass is strong but not sloppy. The Dolby 5.1 track is mixed quieter than the DTS (as is often the case) but it's also not quite as dynamic. Still, it's very good. The 2.0 mix is murky and not really recommended.
There is a nice "behind the scenes" piece that consists of footage of the band messing around in San Francisco, playing at sound check and preparing for the show (including a cameo from Hudson applying the band's stage makeup.) While there's no narration and the piece has no dramatic thrust, it's a fun glimpse into off-stage life and includes a few nice jams.
Somehow the Black Crowes have gone from obscurity to elder statesmen of rock, but thanks to their classic rock style they always sounded kind of older than they were anyway. This show features lively playing and excellent songs that should age well in the future.