The Black Crowes just aren't an opening act. The group founded and fronted by the recently reunited Robinson brothers dominated Wednesday's bill at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The Crowes, who are using a slot as an opener for Tom Petty's current tour to end a four-year hiatus, appear to be leaving their boogie past behind and turning into a jam band. Singer Chris Robinson, whose stringy hair and bushy beard give him the Dirtball Jesus look that generations of rockers have desired, still has a fabulous, Steve Marriott-style blues shriek and all the stage moves an arena bandleader could want.
But on lengthy, Allman Brothers-style arrangements of deep album cuts such as "P.25 London" and "Wiser Time," the elder Robinson had little to do but dance barefoot as little brother-guitarist Rich Robinson and others in the eight-piece lineup worked the crowd into a state of rock-and-roll delirium.
The few familiar tunes the band put into its 80-minute set -- among them "She Talks to Angels," "Twice as Hard" and "Remedy" -- were lumped together at the end. But the Crowes' rhythm section and Rich Robinson's very Keith Richards-like rhythm guitar made every song sound as if it had been sampled from an early-'70s live double album recorded at the Fillmore East. Layoff be damned, this band is at the top of its game.
Headliner Tom Petty covered Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and the Animals' "I'm Cryin'," and introduced "Melinda," a soft romantic tune of his own that will be included on a live DVD. The rest of the nearly two-hour set was made up of the pretty pop singles that Petty has produced over the past three decades. He saved his best for last, encoring with "American Girl," a tune with a riff so timeless the Strokes stole it.
Compared with the Crowes' perspirational set, Petty's performance seemed rote. But fans in and outside the sold-out amphitheater were ecstatic to see and sing along with Petty on tunes that obviously have left a mark. Before introducing members of his trusty backup band, the Heartbreakers, Petty told the crowd, "You know 'em all, you love 'em." He could just as well have been talking about his songs.
-- Dave McKenna