If the Rolling Stones' current tour is all about showmanship and performance, then Counting Crows' concert was about substance and art. There are few bands around today that can play with such passionate feeling, offering an emotional roller coaster of a ride for fans--who might or might not choose to hop on.
Moments before Counting Crows appeared, a recorded version of the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreaming" played over the PA system, reinforcing Counting Crows' frequent references to California. The band then broke out on stage with the title track to its latest album, Recovering the Satellites. Emphasizing substance over flashy gimmicks, the only stage decoration was an illuminated shooting star hanging on the back wall. "Angels in the Silences" and radio station favorite "Daylight Fading" quickly followed. During "Sullivan Street," lead singer Adam Duritz's repeated soul-wrenching cry, "I'm down on my knees," set a mood for the evening. He was not just performing on the stage, he really seemed to be living up there, baring his soul to the audience in the process.
Unfortunately, during several points at the beginning of the show, Duritz's vocals were drowned out by the rest of the instruments. The problem was particularly bad during "Angels in the Silences." Even when Duritz's voice was audible during this song, he seemed to be straining. The introduction of an acoustic set about a third of the way into the show was a welcome break and seemed to allow the band to regroup from the problem.
The acoustic set, which has been appearing in various forms throughout the summer part of the tour, began with an intriguing version of "Mercury" that had Duritz on the piano and Ben Mize on a scaled-down drum kit. Duritz introduced the set saying, "If you make people listen to something in a different way, then it's fresh." He indicated that in performing for VH1's "Storytellers," the band felt that it could speak about the meanings of its songs by playing them in a different way.
The acoustic part of the concert thankfully allowed Counting Crows to bring "Mr. Jones" back into their set list. The song had been removed for a long period of time because Duritz had felt that people no longer paid attention to its meaning and that it had become "too much of a party." The comments have put Duritz in the position of almost being too artsy for his own good. While artistic integrity is noble, when a song makes a group famous, the artist necessarily loses some control over it and should recognize fans' desire to hear it performed.
In fairness to Counting Crows, however, the new version of "Mr. Jones" was immensely moving and served to reinforce what the band is all about. Keyboardist Charlie Gillingham provided a haunting melody on an accordion that complemented Duritz's new lyrics to the song, which included the introduction of words from "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star" by The Byrds. Reflecting on the band's bittersweet feeling about their own fame--something that did not exist when the song was first written--Duritz sang, "We all wanna be big, big stars, but then we get second thoughts about that." He concluded almost whispering, "Mr. Jones and me, we don't see each other much anymore," hinting at the changes the band has gone through since it first became a hit four years ago.
An acoustic version of "Omaha" followed "Mr. Jones" before Duritz sat back down at the piano to play "Raining in Baltimore." With the exception of Gillingham, who played the accordion for parts of the song, the rest of the band sat quietly. Duritz concluded the song by continuously repeating the final line, "I need a raincoat," with a sad emotion in his voice so piercing that it would not have been surprising if someone had been driven up on stage to actually give the poor guy a raincoat.
The band plugged back in to finish up with "Have You Seen Me Lately," "I'm Not Sleeping" and a rocking version of "A Murder of One." With Duritz yelling "get up!" during "Murder," everyone had their hands in the air and were jumping around. The unbelievable ease with which Duritz and the band turned the mood of the show around--from the sullen conclusion of the acoustic set to the raw intensity of the final song--proves just how emotionally extreme their concerts can be.
Returning within a few moments to do it all over again, their encore opened with a 10 minute extended version of "Round Here" that featured lyrics from their unreleased "Barely Out of Tuesday" and "Private Archipelago" by the band Sordid Humor, for whom Duritz previously sang back-up vocals. The optimistic and cathartic "A Long December" followed, and the show ended with "Walkaways." Duritz remained on stage for a few extra minutes to talk with fans and thank them. He began by saying, "Some nights I'm really talkative. Tonight, I'm not." That was too bad. While Duritz certainly says a lot in his songs, the evening would have been better if he had taken the time to personalize the concert and speak more to fans.
Counting Crows left the stage having given an extremely powerful, albeit short 90 minute concert. It was unclear, though, if the band and its fans always operate on the same wavelength. Duritz closed "Round Here" with the song's character Maria asking, "Can't you see me?" He then added his heart-wrenching response, "And I say...no." One fan obnoxiously shattered the moving silence yelling out, "I can't either!" Obviously he hadn't quite gotten the point. But then again, in his defense, maybe he missed the rollercoaster and was just looking for the party that Counting Crows shut down when they scrapped the old version of "Mr. Jones."