By Michael Lello
Photos by Jim Gavenus
SCRANTON – No band has carried the flag for the Woodstock generation into the latter 20th and early 21st centuries with more authenticity than The Black Crowes, so it was acutely appropriate that the band finished off Peach Festival on Sunday, capping the four-day psychedelic music event at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain with a dynamic and crowd-pleasing set.
Despite a sparse audience, many of whom had made for the exits after Bob Weir’s early afternoon acoustic set, the Southern rockers performed with passion and purpose. As has been their wont for several years, the band front-loaded their setlist with deep album cuts, before a flurry of hits to close the evening.
Hitting the stage at roughly 5:30 p.m., Chris Robinson led the group into a hard-charging and twangy “Move It On Down The Line” from the Crowes’ standout 2008 album “Warpaint,” before renditions of “Sting Me,” “Black Moon Creeping” and a fun cover of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo.”
Robinson brought Weir on stage, telling the crowd, “Please welcome the mayor of Peach Fest.” The Grateful Dead founding member traded lead vocals with Robinson during an easy-rolling take on the Bob Dylan classic “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and the two sang “I’m going back to New York City/ I do believe I’ve had enough” in tandem.
The Crowes next paired two tracks from their superb 1994 record “Amorica”: “Ballad In Urgency” and “Wiser Time.” “Ballad” was sweet and wistful, while “Wiser Time” featured a big jam, with Jackie Greene answering Rich Robinson’s wah-wah guitar with a flashy solo of his own.
The tail end of the show included “She Talks To Angels,” “Thorn In My Pride,” “Hard To Handle” and Deep Purple’s “Hush.” The band began the hit ballad “Angels” without drummer Steve Gorman – and 11 songs into the set, it was probably the first song many in attendance had recognized. Chris Robinson took a harmonica solo and threw the harmonica into the crowd during “Thorn,” which featured four-part vocal harmonies by the Robinsons, Greene and bassist Sven Pipien.
The Crowes sounded like they were just getting started when they played “Hard To Handle,” including a foray into the DP song, but such are the drawbacks of festivals; bands accustomed to playing lengthy shows have to fit their energy into a smaller window with less time to build momentum. The Crowes, however, are in short-set form this summer, as they are playing co-headlining dates with The Tedeschi/Trucks Band.
The aforementioned Weir played a hit-and-miss acoustic set, billed as “Brunch With Bobby,” which drew a large crowd into the amphitheater’s seated section for a relatively early 1 p.m. start. Stomping his foot to the beat, Weir opened with “Walkin’ Blues” and the John Phillips and Dead classic cowboy tale “Me And My Uncle.” He tried “City Girls,” forgot the words, said “I’ll come back to that” – and later, he did. A new Furthur song, “Big Bad Blues,” included a nice chord progression, but Weir again spaced on the lyrics: “What’s the next verse? Ah well.”
Weir then welcomed guitarist Steve Kimock, who joined in time for the set’s highlight: a beautiful “Peggy-O,” with Weir’s rich and resonant vocals ringing out in the venue. “Playin’ In The Band” was another high point, and it was interesting to hear such a complex song played acoustically; Weir and Kimock took the song into a darker, improvisational place, before returning to the familiar “Playin’” theme. He closed the show with a spirited cover of Delbert McClinton’s “Standing On Shaky Ground,” which he dedicated to the state of California.
While Weir’s acoustic set wasn’t all great all the time, that’s part of the deal when you see him perform – and it was worth all the rough spots for the magical “Peggy-O” and “Playin’.” Plus, he was coming off Saturday night’s red-hot Ratdog performance. Even the mayor deserves a break.