The Black Crowes
Reno Event Center, Reno, NV

The Black Crowes are going through another one of their metamorphoses - again. The band most loved by the masses was the hard rock Faces clone that gave us an earshot with Shake Your Money Maker (1989) and the darker, more sinister Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (1992). Somewhere along the road they decided to join the jam band craze, smoking massive refer and doing their version of Allman Brothers meets The Dead. Problem is the songs suffered and lack the magic of the bands they try to emulate. Chris and Rich Robinson are still the driving forces in the band. Rich looked lethargic and Chris, in full beard, looked every bit the drugged out hippy he so desperately wants to be.

The quality of the Black Crowes set was mediocre. There were the occasional highlights such as “Soul Singing” and “Downtown Money Waster” which saw the band put some energy behind their own compositions. However, their lackluster presentation got the better of them and tumbled the whole thing into a hazy mess. Only when they fired up the hits, “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle,” did the crowd take notice. When Audley Freed (Cry of Love) joined the band in 1999, they had hopes of reclaiming their hard rock throne. After tonight’s performance, it may have been better had they never reunited.

So it was no surprise Tom Petty and his dedicated Heartbreakers rose as champion of the night. One hit after another rolled out with precision and enthusiasm. Petty looked good and played with passion and conviction. “Listen To Your Heart” opened the set and immediately the crowd was on their feet. “Breakdown”, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Free Fallin” had the crowd singing at the top of their lungs, almost drowning out the performer. Mammoth screens on the sides and back of the stage captured the smile on Petty’s face as the crowd sang back “I Won’t Back Down” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”

Thrilling was to hear the inclusion of the Animals’ “I’m Crying” only seen/heard on Petty’s 2002 Live at The Olympics, The Last DJ and More DVD. Petty engaged the crowd with nostalgic banter referencing his tender memories of the Traveling Wilburys, then launching into “Handel Me With Care.” He also pulled out the Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” with resounding applause from the audience. Not to be taken for granted, is the ease with which Petty and the band communicated. Their body language expresses a certain comfort with the music and each other. Part garage rock, part Stones meets the Byrds, Petty and company can pull any direction and the band follows without missing a beat. Such was the case with “Learning To Fly,” “Refugee” and “Runnin' Down A Dream.”

As the band rolled into the encore, guitarist Mike Campbell opened up the volume with the riff of “You Wreck Me.” A tighter package of “Greatest Hits” could not have been mixed in the set leaving many to speculate what was left. “American Girl” answered all questions and lit up the house with a spectacular screen display and a visual panorama of the band. Petty has proven once again his prowess as a performer and showman. Over 30-years his song quality has grown from strength to strength. Like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Petty takes his place as an American icon.

The Black Crowes, Tom Petty

Live photos by Todd K Smith ©2005