The Black Crowes
Blossom Music Center
Emerging from backstage to the sonic crush of "Live," the leadoff track from his recent album 5, Lenny Kravitz preened and paraded around the dais. He had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand--or better said, upraised and pumping fists. Clad in a knee-length charcoal-and-black striped overcoat and matching pants, his face hidden behind black wraparound sunglasses, Kravitz postured like Patton, fired off hot guitar licks, and even strapped on the four-string to engage in a heavy bass duel.
Critics have accused Kravitz of being nothing more than a rip-off artist. And to be sure, "Rock and Roll Is Dead" could have been written by Aerosmith, while "Fields of Joy" would not have been out of place as the B-side of "Strawberry Fields Forever." But the Blossom crowd seemed to issue a collective "so what?" at the notion as he and his tight band tore through an eleven-song set that covered Kravitz's entire decade-long career.
He turned "Let Love Rule," the final song of the regular set, into a marathon. Kravitz let the audience do most of the work, filling in both the lead and backing vocals of the chorus. "I've just got to come out there, y'all," Kravitz said midway through, and, surrounded by an army of security, he worked his way through the pavilion, before mounting the sound board.
After turning out the lights, the band re-emerged and flew through "Fly Away." After another brief exit, Kravitz reappeared--wearing a Cleveland Browns jersey--and launched into a supercharged "Are You Gonna Go My Way."
The Black Crowes handled the nostalgia for the big arena rock of the 1970s and added their own signatures, such as honky-tonk keys, harmonica, and female backing vocals. Lead singer Chris Robinson even paid homage (unwittingly, perhaps) to the worst of that decade, wearing a sleeveless shirt that resembled a spinning disco ball.
Everlast and his backing band, the White Folx, played an eclectic mix from his recent album, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, and a few tunes from House of Pain, Everlast's former band. Think of a beat poet reading over carefully orchestrated noise and turntable scratches, and you have Everlast.
Tin Hat Trio
Wilbert's Bar & Grille
Building up from gypsy themes and waltz and tango time, the lithe, airborne trio might swell into orchestral anarchy, jack up the tempo for a few spiky, thrashing bars, or sink into a pungent, dark passage. Their old-world music ranges freely in the trio's quick fingers, due to a solid grounding in jazz, classical, and the in-between--and plenty of imagination.
Though accustomed to the more formal settings of the concert hall venue, the Tin Hat Trio played two very satisfying, if somewhat short, sets at Wilbert's Wednesday night. They covered much material from their debut release, Memory Is an Elephant, but slipped in a few new tunes for good measure. The first set found the trio in a terse, agitated mood. They kept the tunes relatively short and punctuated them with plenty of staccato. "Big Top" began sweetly enough, as Carla Kihlstedt set long, thick violin lines over Rob Burger's accordion chords, but finished with a guitar and violin classical thrash.
Kihlstedt continued with an edgier sound on "Rubies, Pearls and Emeralds," peppering the tune with metallic scrapes from the violin strings. "U.C. Irvine, U.C. Davis" opened with a surprisingly truculent, semi-bluegrass section, fueled largely by Mark Orton's wild strumming. His percussive guitar stood in for a rhythm section and lent the able trio all the propulsion they needed.
Following a soft, beguiling accordion interlude, the trio ripped into the most atonal passage of the night--the kind of psycho-killer edge that keeps anyone from confusing the trio with Carnival Cruise Lines tourist bullshit, even for a minute.
During the second set, the trio relaxed and stretched out a bit, throwing a few songs out of the set list and stretching the remaining to fill. On "Foreign Legion," the trio opened with three repeated phrases and built into broad sheets of sound. Polyrhythms and manic, popcorn accents jumped out from behind Burger's mollifying accordion. The tune went through several movements--from tango jumps to waltz skips to full-out lawlessness--each with its own distinct emotion. Then the warped carnival music of "Lamb Rack Roar" spun wildly in schizophrenic tempo changes. One particularly fun interlude frothed like a rabid bagpipe before settling into plaintive chording. A big, sprawling sound from a small, small group.
Dave Matthews Band
One question for the Dave Matthews Band has been, Do we really need to hear an alto sax/violin solo during every song? Compared to last summer's Blossom show, it appears the band has overcome its need for superfluous showboating in favor of a more focused, less meandering style of jamming.
Though the band is named after him, Matthews is rarely the sole focal point--Boyd Tinsley's uplifting violin and Leroi Moore's omnipresent saxophone provide the commanding atmosphere on which Matthews layers his distinct voice and subtle guitar playing. Vocally, Matthews has two modes, which vary from enticing ("Lover Lay Down") to foreboding ("Don't Drink the Water"). The latter track, with its heavy sax, bubbling violin, and dark lyrics, was a nice change of pace from the lovey-dovey "Crush" and cheerful "Satellite."
The inclusion of two obscure songs kept the show from being one big sing-along. The simplistic "Help Myself," from the Scream 2 soundtrack, proved the band didn't have to rely on a violin hook or throbbing sax notes to carry a tune. Also relatively unknown to the crowd was the gentle Johnny Cash tune "Long Black Veil."
"Ants Marching," "Jimi Thing," and the lone encore song "Two Step" accurately summed up the DMB philosophy: Use the familiar, basic musical foundation to build and explore. The encore track, with the violin and guitar in succinct harmony, sounded as though it were in the garage for a tune-up--to be worked and reworked until the band was satisfied. As if its integrity was in question, DMB left off the adult contemporary hit "Crash Into Me" and favorite encore track "All Along the Watchtower."
Opening the show, much to the dismay of the somewhat rude DMB fans, was Corey Harris, who successfully combined the bluesy rock style of Cream with Peter Gabriel's vocal imagery and Bob Marley's earthy sensibilities.