When I see the bands I remember in my younger days still playing shows now like they were when I was growing up, it really makes me feel old. But the Black Crowes have been playing concerts and releasing albums since their 1990 debut album "Shake Your Money Maker." Brothers Chris (who handles the vocals) and guitarist Rich Robinson have set the foundation for the musical style of the band - a unique mix of southern rock, blues, folk, and other elements.
How unique is it? Well, Chris has had eclectic musical tastes for quite a while. In fact, the band's first album included a hit song that was a cover of the Otis Redding song "Hard to Handle." The second album, 1992's "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" featured an unlisted version of Bob Marley's "Time Will Tell." Some of the band's other reinterpreted songs captured on audio and video discs include classics from The Band and Willie Dixon.f you look at the following playlist for this concert, held on March 20, 2008, at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in support of the "Warpaint" album, you can see songs originally written by Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, among others:
"Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution"
"Walk Believer Walk"
"Wee Who See the Deep"
"Movin' on Down the Line"
"God's Got It"
"There's Gold in Them Hills"
"Poor Elijah/Tribute to Johnson" (medley)
"Darling of the Underground Press"
"Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye"
"Don't Know Why"
"Torn and Frayed"
Most of the material from the concert is from "Warpaint," which is performed here in its entirely. The album itself was released two weeks before the concert, and I note this because the crowd's reaction to the material is lukewarm. When the crowd's most visible reaction to any song comes four songs from the end, what does that tell you? However, most bands who play an entire album days after it streets don't successfully get the crowd going. It's not any different for the Crowes, who get points for trying at least. Additionally, when you're playing music from your first studio album in seven years, things can get tricky onstage.
In the band's defense, they had been playing many of the songs live for several years, and some members appear comfortable performing them. Chris Robinson's voice hasn't diminished since the early days, and it's still amazing to hear his voice when he sings particularly when you see that he's wire-thin. When it comes to guitarists, Rich is one of the more underrated of the bunch, and when given the chance to play blues guitar, could probably hold his own among contemporaries such as Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Yet despite seeing the Robinson's return to form, Warpaint Live still leaves me feeling a little hollow. The Black Crowes are not the Black Crowes from my youth, and while I understand that such a passing statement is stating the obvious - after all, what band has stayed the same over the years - this new version feels unpolished. Upon further glance, this was the first tour for the band with a new guitarist (Luther Dickinson) and keyboardist (Adam McDougall). As they grow more into the catalog, with more performances I could see the band recording a chart-earning album or single in the future. The Black Crowes are good enough in 2008, but they appear to have a brighter future.
The Black Crowes come to high definition in a 1.78:1 widescreen presentation which is displayed in 1080i high-definition. Eagle Rock uses the AVC codec for the show, resulting in an accurate replication of the concert. There is some background detail present, though the image tends to suffer more from softness than anything else. It's not the best filmed performance in the world either; crowds are darker than usual masses, and the house lights could barely shine on my counter (a fault of the venue, perhaps). When choosing between this and any standard-definition disc, naturally I'll leap for this, but comparing it to other performance features on high definition, I'd put Warpaint on the lower end of the scale.
Eagle Rock gives the viewer a choice between LPCM stereo, a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. In discerning the difference from the lossless and lossy, there's a fuller soundstage reproduction from the low end, and the rear speakers get a little more activity during some guitar sequences and crowd noise. It's not the most ambient disc as far as Blu-ray concerts go, as the vocals sound a little inconsistent in the center channel, but the guitars are in the front channels for the duration and there's even an unexpected instance of panning. It's good sonically.
You'll get nothing and like it, mister.
While it's easy to dismiss Warpaint Live as a band's attempt at trying to regain a foothold in musical relevancy, we might lose context. The Black Crowes' steadfast musical style is here, but it doesn't come off with quite the same gusto. Considering the talent of the band's founding members, I think they can get back there to some degree. The performance should have that caveat associated with it. Technically it's not the best Blu-ray concert I've seen, but not the worst either. Fans of the band (and rock music) should give Warpaint Live a spin in high-definition.