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Helm's actions speaks louder than Black Crowes

Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, August 28, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Levon Helm didn't utter a single word during the concert, and the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson did, though not so many. So, it would be obvious who connected a lot more with the audience en route to a solid show, right?

Of course, the answer was Helm, the former drummer for The Band, who has been reborn in his solo career in the past few years.

Helm, who previously battled cancer, was on vocal rest due to doctor's orders, according to guitarist Larry Campbell. But that did not stop Helm from stepping out from behind his drum kit to do a little dance at one point to the delight of the crowd or make it clear he appreciated the crowd's endorsement at the end of their hour-long set.

The Helm portion of the evening was more like a revue. In a traditional Helm show these days, he takes vocals on some songs, his daughter Amy and Teresa Williams takes on others, and still other members of the band will add their vocal chops. On this evening, most of the vocals fell upon Campbell, who did a very good job.

Songs, which ranged from The Band to Helm solo songs, tilted towards the bluesy, although they also had their swampy and rootsy elements as well. Deep Ellum Blues was a particular standout.

And since this was Boston, Helm was aided by the stellar keyboard work of Al Kooper, who infused the songs on which he played with a tremendous amount of liveliness. Kooper fit in perfectly with what Helm was trying to achieve.

Helm may not have said anything to the crowd, but his solid tempo coupled with a lot of excellent playing (the band also includes tuba ace Howard Johnson. When was the last time you heard a tuba solo sound so good as Johnson was on the closing song The Weight?) from the entire crew meant for yet another fine evening of music from Helm.

The Crowes are touring in advance of the release of "Before the Frost...Until the Freeze," which drops Tuesday, and that didn't necessarily make it easy on the crowd.

The Crowes started off pretty lively and invigorating with Good Morning Captain, Make Glad, Let Me Share The Ride and Houston Don't Dream About Me. Particularly outstanding was guitarist Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame, who also is a member of The Crowes. Here and throughout the night, his playing totally anchored the sound. His often steely playing was lively, taut and easily was the best aspect of their sound.

While unsure if it was the six new songs played or the quality of the songs or perhaps the composition of the set list, the Crowes never really took off.

As much as Helm connected with the crowd, Robinson was on the distant side. He just never really engaged the crowd or did much beyond the typical "Thank you." There were too many songs that tended to sound flat and the same (Appaloosa).

Fortunately, The Crowes ended the show on a very strong note starting with the passion from Robinson on Sometimes Salvation. That would continue through the remaining two songs of the regular set, Twice as Hard and Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love) and the two-song encore of She Talks To Angels and the excellent closing of Shake Your Money Maker. It wasn't enough to overcome the earlier doldrums of the show, but it certainly made you realize that this may have been a bit of an off night where actions spoke way louder than words.