Counting Crows bring the circus to the tent

A review of Counting Crows, Augustana at the South Shore Music Circus on July 30, 2010

, Contributing Writer

The Counting Crows have thrown out the conventional thoughts of what one should expect at a summer concert. For the second year in a row, the 90’s favorites are on the road presenting their Traveling Circus & Medicine Show, a 2 1/2 hour show that features a constant rotation of bands throughout the night. There are no openers on this tour, rather co-performers in Augstana and NOTAR. On Sunday, the circus arrived in Cohasset for a sold out show at the South Shore Music Circus.

As the lights dimmed, Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz came right to the stage along with 17 or 18 other musicians opening with Van Morrison’s “Caravan”. It was hard to focus on one musician in particular as the rotating stage couldn’t possibly fit one more guitar, mic, banjo, piano or tambourine to the jam fest. A few musicians left the stage for the Counting Crows to play “Omaha” off their debut album August and Everything After.

What followed was 2 1/2-hour show that featured a constant rotation of artists on stage. And in true jam session form, each time band members left the stage they came back with a different type of beer or solo cup. “Hanginaround” included all the bands hangin’ around the stage having a few drinks and singing along to the chorus. By the end of the night, there was enough Sam Adams, Stella Artois, Budweiser and solo cups to have a beer pong tournament.

The intertwining of musicians for each song was an interesting change from what some in the crowd thought would be a traditional Counting Crows concert. Augustana has a similar musical style, but with the addition of Rapper Mike Notar (aka NOTAR) who Duritz signed to his own record company, Tyrannosaurus Records, it seemed to be an odd fit for the show. NOTAR brought an interesting mix to the night as he dropped beats and hooks during songs like “Stranger”, which also saw Duritz rapping along. NOTAR has a rare talent but his presence did more harm than good by stripping away time from the show that would have been better spent on some hits from the Counting Crows

Though they strayed from playing most of the big hits fans craved, the Counting Crows did deliver with “The Long December”, which sparked a joyous sing-along. Throughout the show, Duritz was full of energy, bouncing around the stage with his tight jeans, psychedelic T-shirt and signature dreadlocks. “Color Blind” proved that Duritz’s vocal chords have not changed since the early days, and it was nice to bring things down for a moment from the rap and overcrowding of the stage. For “Up All Night”, Duritz, a depression sufferer, wore a fitting t-shirt stating “Demented and Sad but Social.” Counting Crows guitarists Dan Vickrey and David Immergluck were the standout musicians of the night. Vickrey laid down some serious guitar riffs for nearly every song of the night and Immergluck rocked the mandolin for numerous songs.

Augustana was a strong compliment to the Counting Crows. The band played a mix of tunes from their two albums. “This is a song I wrote about your town. It’s called Albequerque”, frontman Dan Layus said as he went into the band’s breakthrough hit “Boston”. The crowd seemed to enjoy the song, not just because of its aptly named title but the song has been a radio staple in the Boston area for quite some time. “Fire” off their 2008 album Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt also proved to be one of the band’s best songs.

Layus and Duritz teamed up for “Delta Lady”, a Joe Cocker cover but their vocals were completely overpowered by the guitars. The two and their respective bands got it right when they teamed up later in the show for a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”, which proved to be one the top highlights of the night.

The encore started with all the bands rocking out on stage together, starting first with Counting Crows’ “Rain King” and then jumping into an altered version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” before going back into the end of “Rain King”. The crowd loved “Rain King”, but “With A Little Help From My Friends” was nearly unrecognizable with Duritz singing the words at a different tone.

As the show came to a close, Duritz spoke to the crowd about giving back to local organizations and singled out the AIDS Action Committee and Wellspring Wellness Center. He also conveyed the importance of registering to vote and actually voting. “Each and every person matters”, Duritz said. Stepping off from his soapbox, the show came to a final conclusion with all of the performers leasing a sing-along of an American classic, Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”. Though it fit with their message, the song like the rest of the show, seemed to be having an identity crisis from the start.

The Counting Crows and Augustana were able to blend their bands together well in theory, but trying to incorporate a completely different style of music with NOTAR took away from what most concertgoers paid for – a Counting Crows concert.

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