Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do the Black Crowes Needtobreathe?

I'm a huge music lover. Live music in particular gets me moving in a way that nothing else can. Earlier this month, tour buses from two of my favorite live bands, the Black Crowes and Needtobreathe, each made stops in Portland within a four-day window! I was in rock 'n' roll heaven, so to speak.
On Saturday night, the Black Crowes chose the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as one of the final stops on their 2010 farewell tour. Though their collective world view differs vastly from mine, I've been into the Crowes' music since the 1990s. There was something about their free, decidedly non-modern rock approach to music that got my attention as a high schooler. Then, after seeing them play live with some of my college buddies, I was hooked. In concert, the grooves and swells of their jammed out performances of originals and cover songs manage to be both tight and spontaneous, simultaneously. IMG_7307.JPGFrom that year on, I've caught every local Black Crowes show since 1998, including the one from their aptly titled "Souled Out Tour" a few years back. Their music has soul to spare, and yet I don't hesitate to pray for each of their own souls whenever I feel led.

My conflicted feelings about the Black Crowes have been echoed by Christian rock band Third Day, who continue to be influenced by their sound. In "Blackbird," their thinly veiled tribute/challenge to the Black Crowes, front man Mac Powell tells them that Jesus loves them and sings, "Black bird, how I love to hear your songs/ I could spend all of my time in the shade/ Of the trees and listen all day long." The song, peppered with references to Crowes lyrics (and, when played live, sounds at times like a straight up cover of "Remedy" with reworked lyrics) continues with a paraphrase of Jesus referencing Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:14-15: "But you're ever hearing, never understanding/ Ever seeing but your heart has grown calloused/ You're in a storm and lost your way/ Won't you fly to heaven and be saved today?"

The Crowes' lyrics may not always portray a particularly high view of Christ or His followers, and stories abound about perpetuating their stereotypical rock star lifestyle. However, their versatile musicianship and stunning cohesiveness as a band is rarely expressed with vulgarity, and their songwriting is often underscored with pleas for love and peace.

That's a good start.

IMG_7330.JPGA few days after the Black Crowes show, my friend Joe and I caught Needtobreathe at the Roseland Theater.

Being as they are one of my other favorite live acts, I was disappointed last year to suffer the most intense headache of my life on the very day that Kathy and I saw Needtobreathe previously at the Hawthorne Theater. This time around, I was ready to rock.

Chances are, many people have already unknowingly heard Needtobreathe's songs in films, TV shows, or movie trailers. They're not a household name yet, but Taylor Swift considered them hot enough to personally hand them the opening spot on her upcoming national tour (which begs the question, why would she want to try to follow them in concert?).

Click the thumbnail above to play short video clip of the mic-free, no-amp Needtobreathe acoustic encore at the Roseland Theater. I didn't bother to film much of the rowdier moments. I knew I wouldn't be able to stand still long enough to hold the camera steady, anyway.

The set list was a crowd pleasing mix of both familiar and yet to be released songs, with a few unexpectedly amped up versions of some their mellower fan favorites. Sadly, their show didn't even come close to matching (in length) the previous weekend's 3+ hour swan song of the Black Crowes, and I doubt that I was the only one in the crowd who was hoping to experience the epic worship of "Signature of the Divine (Yahweh)." These two small complaints aside, though, this was another amazing show from a band that is really hitting their stride!

Musically, Needtobreathe has evolved from the anthem rock of their debut album to their current eclectic blend of southern rock, Americana, and blues/soul. And their live show leaves their studio-recorded material in the dust. Sound familiar?

I thought so, too. Minutes before kicking off their diverse set of electric/acoustic/folk/piano/organ country rock, I couldn't help but smile as the last recorded song of the Needtobreathe pre-show music played… "Good Morning Captain," by the Black Crowes.

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