In 2005, the Black Crowes returned to touring after a four year hiatus with a seven night run at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. The first surprise of this reformed Black Crowes was the welcome addition of Marc Ford, who was kicked out of the band in 1997, and in the ensuing years vowed never to work with the brothers Robinson again. In May, original drummer Steve Gorman re-entered the fold and allowed the band to be in possession of five of the six members who made up their "classic" lineup from the years 1992-1997 (original bassist Johnny Colt now handles the bass duties for the band Train - Sven Pipien is his replacement). Memories of the disappointing years between 1998-2001 soon faded in March 2005 when it became obvious that the Crowes were going to do everything in their power to get back to the vibe and feeling of their glory years.
The Black Crowes Freak 'n' Roll…Into the Fog documents the band's August 6th performance at the legendary Fillmore auditorium. This was taken from night two of the Crowes five night stand at the Fillmore, which is a venue that has boasted performances from others bands in possession of their classic lineup such as the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead.
The thundering "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere" opener, complete with a horn section courtesy of the Left Coast Horns perfectly set the tone for the CD, with its soulful, funky wailing of Chris Robinson perfectly complimented by the twin guitar attack of brother Rich Robinson and Marc Ford. The whole first half of the CD was essentially a rollicking, rocking showcase of some of the band's finer material, including "No Speak, No Slave", top ten hit "Jealous Again" and a lengthy version of one of the defining Crowes songs - "My Morning Song". Peppered in the set was underrated gem "Welcome to the Goodtimes", again complete with horns, and a cover of the Joe Cocker classic "Space Captain", which provided the crowd with a chance to participate in the collective "ooh"ing and "aah"ing of the band.
It is the second half of the show however, where the CD really takes off and allows the audience at home to witness the magic of a live Black Crowes show. At the beginning of the second set, the crowd is treated to an acoustic mini-set which begins with Marc Ford and Rich Robinson dueling their way through unreleased acoustic nugget, "Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz." Robinson and Ford are joined by the older Robinson brother Chris for the next song which is a beautiful rendition of one of the Crowes most powerful songs, "Cursed Diamond." Here, it is really a testament to the healing power of music to see three musicians who'd often swore they'd never share the stage again, play such a meaningful song for the band and fan alike. "Cursed Diamond" was once referred to as the song that "kept the band together" way back in March 1995 when it was only the brothers Robinson who came out and played it acoustically. Now ten years on, and with the drama of Marc Ford's initial departure a distant memory, and all the members older and wiser - it serves as a poignant reminder of the tumultuous history of a band that has seemingly come full circle. The rest of the set does not disappoint, with back-to-back "Amorica" tracks "Wiser Time" and "Non Fiction" really showcasing the strong songwriting of the Crowes, while radio hits "She Talks to Angels" and "Hard to Handle" are played to cater to even the most casual of fans. The show is capped off with the surprise revival of the Band's "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" (their first since 1997), which demonstrates the Crowes' ability to take such a well known song and completely make it their own.
2005 was a year that will go down in Crowedom as an incredible return to form, with the band coming back to the music and vibe that existed in their mid-90s glory years. Freak 'n' Roll…Into the Fog is a loving document of this, and evidence of the prevailing musicianship of the Black Crowes.
* This review is based on Shannon's original review of the DVD version of this show.