Some seven years on down the road from the band’s last studio album, the just-released “Warpaint” finds the well-traveled rock ‘n’ roll circus that is the Black Crowes carrying on in the musical tradition of, well, the Black Crowes — which means still wearing their Allmans-to-Zeppelin rock influences on their sleeves but also drawing from much deeper and murkier wells of country, gospel, blues and soul to create their so-called freak ‘n’ roll experience for themselves and anyone else who wants to “come join the jubilee,” as the sprightly lead-off track “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” invited at the sold-out Wiltern.
Considering their relentless touring sked, it had become absolutely vital that a new album’s worth of material be available to keep both the musicians and fans engaged. And it appears a more focused, collective effort was made for this 11-song release (on the Black Crowes’ own Silver Arrow label) than on their last few records, from the sympathetic production of Paul Stacey on through to management, booking and PR concerns: A handful of one-night-only perfs of the new disc in its entirety created an event that raised the band’s media profile and renewed its viability in the marketplace.
A singular repeated blues riff, paired with a possessed Chris Robinson vocal, ran the length of the venomous “Walk Believer Walk,” while “Oh Josephine” and “Locust Street,” two exquisitely wrought ballads, featured Chris and brother Rich harmonizing at their finest and rank among their best — though largely underappreciated — work.
Playing “Warpaint” live also provided a smooth access point to introduce the two latest members of the polymorphous unit that supports the brothers to the Crowes’ aud. (That rather devout following is often polarized by the siblings’ lack of communication with the press, with the fans directly or even with each other.)
Given that the lead guitarist and keyboardist slots are integral in contributing to the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts” quality that the Black Crowes have long exhibited — and which the brothers’ more recent solo projects only served to reinforce — slide-savvy Luther Dickinson (sharing his time with his own North Mississippi Allstars) and Adam MacDougall had some large shoes to fill. But they delivered the new material flawlessly and brought their own energy to the two Crowes catalog numbers included in the short second set, alongside covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Torn and Frayed,” the Bramlett/Clapton-era tunes “Don’t Know Why” and “Poor Elijah — Tribute to Johnson” and Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma.”
Despite the new LP and lineup in a new day and ever-evolving age for the group and the record biz, a sense of comforting familiarity pervaded the evening. It probably didn’t hurt that another “Warpaint” tune, “Movin’ on Down the Line,” is essentially a reworked take on “Goodbye Daughters,” whose refrain echoes that of their very first single, 1990’s “Jealous Again.” But then, as Chris likes to say about music in general, “Hey, man … it’s all one big song, anyway.”