LIVE: Black Crowes & Dirty Honey @ SPAC, 09/14/2021

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Black Crowes strutted their stuff at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on September 14th. The Tuesday night performance was marked by cool weather but hot rock sounds that started with their opener Dirty Honey.

Openers tend to be overlooked, even by this reviewer, or are given a polite paragraph. Dirty Honey commanded the stage, starting their set with a pulsing, heart pounding drum beat that could be felt through the audience’s collective. Niskayuna native Marc LaBelle, the lead singer for Dirty Honey, shot out on stage with the energy of Jagger, kicking the air and dancing with the microphone while cursing a welcome to his hometown scene.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Dirty Honey sounds like so many of the great rock bands from earlier days, it was hard not to draw comparisons between the guitarist John Notto and the late Eddie Van Halen. Notto can make the instrument howl with pleasure, often drawing interest to his technique and style. In “When I’m Gone,” Notto’s guitar was matched by incredible vocals from LaBelle, playing back and forth with high energy and perfect musicianship.  In the song “No Warning,” Notto’s playing was muddied at one point during the bridge of the song, the only imperfection noted during the whole set.

The California based rock band includes Justin Smolian on bass, who plays his role with cool ease while looking over his shades, and Corey Coverstone at the drum set. This is an opening act with an old soul, ripe for center stage. In “No Warning,” the vocals sounded like Sammy Hagar; then later, LaBelle covered Aerosmith’s “Last Child” sounding much like Steven Tyler.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

LaBelle shared he saw his first concert ever at SPAC, which was an Aerosmith concert, and “am bringing it full circle tonight by playing here.” The audience roared a welcome to their native, jumping and head nodding along with the powerful music. From “Tied Up” to the ballad “Heart Breaker,” Dirty Honey showed versatility while maintaining their own style. They are clearly the new voice of age old rock and roll, a welcome new sound on the old landscape.

The Black Crowes took the stage shortly after 9 pm. The stage, set with an old jukebox, felt reminiscent of earlier days pre COVID. This concert had been rescheduled from two years ago due to COVID, so its reaching back in decor made some sense. Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson came out with “Twice As Hard” and waited no time to add their signature sound of slide guitar and commanding vocals. The crowd sang along, bringing bright energy back from the performers.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Chris Robinson seemed to only get better as the night wore on, increasing his energy like it was fed to him by the applause. After a slightly flat pitched “Jealous Again,” Robinson took off with the beautiful ballad “Sister Luck” complete with backup vocalists. Isaiah Mitchell’s solid guitar playing supplemented the band’s full sound, and drummer Brian Griffin offered the consistent pulse to the songs.  With Chris leaping and dancing across the stage in old rock star fashion, the band continued to groove through crowd favorites.

Early notable songs in the set included what Robinson stated was “a little Sunday Morning feeling on a Tuesday night.” He was referencing the organ and gospel vibe to “Seeing Things.” The energy returned with the Otis Redding cover made more famous by the Black Crowes, “Hard to Handle.” Robinson bounced as he sang the familiar spicy words. A mid-set “She Talks to Angels” offered a bit of introspection and beauty as well.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

The band never rested for long, bounding between ballads and high energy songs that moved the crowd along with it.  With “Remedy” placed at the end of the set, fans were satisfied. Encore was a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do?” reaffirming that they may be older, but they can still rock.

The only downside to concerts in September is the cold, and many fans were huddled under sweaters and sweatshirts. The sound for this concert was much louder overall than other shows at SPAC, which raised the issue of why. Rock shows tend to be very loud, and the dissonance created is sometimes part of the genre’s sound. It was jarring nonetheless, even with protective gear, and made deciphering some of the music initially challenging.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Robinson’s voice strengthened through the night, and the sensation of music through the audience’s bodies created a magic for fans who had waited so long to watch them shake their moneymakers. Fans smiled and nodded along with pleasure as they shook theirs in return.

Photo Gallery by Jim Gilbert

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