"We gotta ride in the bus with him after that shit," joked Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson after the sold-out house gave keyboardist/hometown hero Eddie Harsch the lion's share of applause during band introductions.
Not that Robinson seemed to be suffering from a bruised ego during this latest stop on the Crowes' "Sho 'Nuff" small-club tour: For 90-minutes, covered in glitter dust in a flowing white dashiki, he strutted moves that could qualify him to lead any summer stock production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Gesturing wildly with his mic stand wrapped in feathers, Robinson looked at times more like a one-man incarnation of kitsch-ventriloquist act Waylan and Madam than swagger-rock progenitor Mick Jagger. It was these kinds of over-the-top-isms -- magnified in the thousand-person capacity club -- that crystallized the Crowes' reputation as a hyper-achieving bar band. Moreover, they seem hellbent on proving that they're still capable of reproducing the straight-ahead, hard-rocking R&B hyperbole that made them FM staples of the early '90s.
And to be sure, having spent half a decade drifting from retro-rock into a jam-happy psychedelia that had the band sharing stages with the likes of Bob Weir and Jorma Kaukonen on the Furthur Fest, the Crowes were determined to establish that they were, indeed, back from the Dead. They kept things tight, short-winded and familiar, drawing six of their 14 songs -- including the three encores -- from their 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker; another five from its follow-up, 1992's Southern Harmony and Musical Companion; just two from 1994's Amorica and avoiding 1996's darkly-trippy Three Snakes and One Charm altogether.
Blasting confidently through "Remedy" and "Sting Me," the Crowes paused only long enough for Robinson to lose his white feathered hat as guitarist (and younger brother) Rich, now center stage after the departure of longtime lead player Marc Ford, laid into the groove of "Black Moon Rising," which segued right into the romping blues shuffle of "Thick 'N Thin."
They debuted only one song from their upcoming Columbia Records debut: "Horsehead," a heavy wah-wah pedal grinder built on dramatic guitar drop-outs and the younger Robinson's strategic slide playing. By the time the band moved onto the Sunday-morning saunter of "Seeing Things," with Harsch delivering a Southern revival organ solo that drew a smile from the younger Robinson, the Crowes were back to the hits. The only trace of free-range indulgence left was in the Allman Brothers-ish double leads and space-jam breakdown of "Morning Song."
But even that ended quickly, detouring sharply into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," with afro-sporting tour addition Audley Freed supplying the Page. A funky reading of the disjointed blues of "A Conspiracy" followed, and then the Robinson brothers shared vocal duties on "Wiser Time" as Harsch, Freed and Robinson traded tight solos. Soon enough, it was back to audience appreciation as the houselights came on for the set-ending honky tonk of "Jealous Again."
A swollen full-band encore version of "She Talks To Angels" had lighters in the air, and the crowd mouthing the words. Even when Freed came in too early on "Hard To Handle," audience and band were having too much fun to care -- it was almost like the Crowes covering themselves. As Chris Robinson said leaving the stage after the final "Twice As Hard": "The future of rock and roll is in your hands," reminding the crowd, one more time, that its past was in theirs.