H.O.R.D.E. stands for Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere. In the fourth annual H.O.R.D.E. tour's stop Saturday at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the horizon-seekers went mainly for retrograde developments and wound up spending lots of time in the rock 'n' roll past, circa 1972-75.
Playing to a capacity crowd at the Olympic Velodrome, the four bands on H.O.R.D.E.'s main stage offered lessons on the use and abuse of rock history, with Wilco the ablest user, the headlining Black Crowes the worst abuser, and Blues Traveler and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers somewhere in between.
Wilco, an unpretentiously dusty bunch of country-rockers occupying the opening slot, excelled because of singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy's ability to steer well-chosen musical models down melodically rich and emotionally evocative byways. When somebody in the crowd asked Tweedy to "play one for Jerry," he responded with melancholy ballads that Garcia himself might have enjoyed singing. Wilco showed it could rock, too, on chunky Stones and Replacements-style songs in which the band didn't let the frustrations detailed in the lyrics get in the way of bash-it-out fun.
The Black Crowes' singer, Chris Robinson, offered vocally overwrought and compositionally undernourished answers to the question: What if Rod Stewart had joined the Rolling Stones for "Exile on Main Street"? There's nothing wrong with hewing closely to a Stones/Faces style, but Robinson's brittle, harsh singing didn't allow for the essential personal spin that can make borrowed styles resonate anew. Going for large-scale, throaty blues belting, he replicated the basic tone and mannerisms but missed the warmth and nuance of a Stewart. There's still some hope for the Crowes, though: The band set aside its strident approach on "Wiser Time," in which a weary, chastened mood and floating rhythms yielded a rewarding, beautifully played moment.