Counting Crows drop the hits, go with covers in Boston

A review of Counting Crows at the House of Blues on April 25, 2012

, Contributing Writer

Counting Crows may be known for hits like “Mr. Jones”, “Rain King” and “Accidentally in Love”, but they decided to go a different route Wednesday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the House of Blues. This new formula of covers from their brand new album Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation), along with a series of rarities from older records, offered a deep glimpse into what the band is capable of beyond the chart-toppers, but left many fans disheartened with a set that was largely devoid of what has made Counting Crows so popular since their spectacular 1993 debut August and Everything After.

The California rockers opted to forgo original material with their latest release, trying their hand at a variety of genres with Underwater Sunshine. Covers from the new album dominated Wednesday night’s setlist, and many were received well. Frontman Adam Duritz tamed the country twang of Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel” with his melodically rich tone, and David Immerglück’s mandolin, supplemented by Charlie Gillingham on the keyboard, perfectly captured the placid melody of Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again”. Mellow seemed to be the theme of the band’s selection of covers, as they also delivered  Kurt Stevenson and Patrick Winningham’s “Mercy”, The Romany Rye’s “Untitled (Love Song)” and Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo”.

Counting Crows reached into the depths of their catalogue for many of the night’s songs. Duritz and company opened smoothly with the slowly burning “Sullivan Street”, the dreadlocked singer drawing out the ending to scattered cheers. While he delivers every song with solid conviction, Duritz is not the most graceful character on the stage. He never seems to be sure if he should be clapping, strumming his frequently-present air guitar, or miming out a song’s lyrics in half-formed choreography. Regardless, he held the audience captive with his evocative vocals in songs like “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream”, “Time and Time Again” and “Speedway”.

While the three-pronged guitar attack of Immerglück, David Bryson and Dan Vickrey allows Counting Crows to craft intricately complex melodies, Vickrey often enjoys the spotlight by himself – and with good reason. The guitarist, who also co-writes much of the band’s material, was throwing monster riffs at the crowd all night long. He delivered one of the night’s highlights when he shredded through a huge solo in “A Murder of One” to create. Immerglück also impressed with some serious fretting in between the lines of “Miami”.

Even though the set ran twenty songs, conspicuously absent were almost all of the band’s big hits. Songs like “Mr. Jones”, “Omaha” and “Round Here”, which should be staples of any Counting Crows concert, were sorely missed. It’s understandable the guys avoided “Accidentally in Love” – fans didn’t need the mental image of love-struck ogres bounding blissfully through a field – but it was disappointing that they didn’t offer more than a few songs that the casual follower would recognize. The result was a lackluster crowd, which finally found what they were looking for at the end of the night with main-set closer “A Long December” and show closer “Holiday in Spain”. Unfortunately, for most, it seemed to be too little, too late.

Boston’s own Mean Creek were happy to be back home, taking the stage with big riffs and bigger hair. “Sunlight”, off last year’s EP Hemophiliac, got a good reception with Chris Keene’s vocals standing out despite simple lyrics. The band is best when Aurore Ounjian offers her voice for a driving harmony, and the two capitalized on songs like “I’m So Afraid”. Mean Creek also previewed a brand new song with “You Were Wrong” before closing with the angry lament of “The Comedian”.

1.  Sullivan Street
2.  Untitled (Love Song) (Romany Rye cover)
3.  I Wish I Was a Girl
4.  St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream
5.  Hospital (Coby Brown cover)
6.  Time and Time Again
7.  Start Again (Teenage Fanclub cover)
8.  A Murder of One
9.  Speedway
10. Catapult
11. Hanging Tree
12. Mercy (Kurt Stevenson and Patrick Winningham cover)
13. Like Teenage Gravity (Kasey Anderson & The Honkies cover)
14. Monkey
15. Miami
16. Return of the Grievous Angel (Gram Parsons cover)
17. A Long December
18. The Ballad of El Goodo (Big Star cover)
19. Come Around
20. Holiday in Spain

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