2000 / Live Reviews / Music

Concert Review: Counting Crows, Live Prove They’re ‘Big Stars’

Bands Co-Headline National Tour

83930To hear Live’s lead singer Ed Kowalczyk tell it, the reason audiences should flock to his band’s co-headlining tour with the Counting Crows is that it’s all about friendship.

From the stage at Minneapolis’ Target Center on Wednesday night, Kowalczyk urged the crowd not to go to concerts “created by a guy behind a desk.”

As he spoke over an ovation, Kowalczyk said that their tour came about because of his friendship with Counting Crows singer Adam Durtiz.

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. Both Live and Counting Crows are tried-and-true alternative rock bands who slid into heavy video rotation on MTV in the ’90s. Economically, both groups share enough musical territory to co-headline a bill and yet diverge enough to possibly win new converts.

And all too painfully, both bands have seen their album sales soften as audiences have moved on to you-know-who. Except for some professional athletes, few people would feel comfortable being considered over the hill at around 30.

But business aside, both acts proved that they’re still alive and kicking, and they have something that these young whippersnapper bands can learn from. Echoing a line from the Crows’ biggest hit, “they (still) want to be big stars.”

Opening up the show was Unified Theory, a new act that features former members of Blind Melon and Pearl Jam. Even though they may be newcomers, they probably can relate to the headliners’ popular woes.

Unified Theory’s esoteric songs sound somewhat homogenous on their debut album, but the band’s melodic growl reverberates surprisingly well off the concrete walls of an arena. The group’s music is a combination of the summer-y haze of Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” period, combined with a guitar that’s reminiscent of a brontosaurus. Their set was impressive if unjustly brief.

Taking the stage with a look of purpose on their faces, Live is a band that acts older than it is. Although they’re veterans, none of the band members look a day older than 30. They’ve already recorded four albums (they announced from the stage that they plan to start work on album No. 5 shortly).

And yet in that time, the group has seen its popularity explode in the mid-’90s and then fade in recent years (as Kowalczyk said, they’re all still younger than the oldest member of Blink 182). But despite their youth, and with a keyboardist and second guitar player in tow, the band already seems a bit too classic rock.

Dressed in a flame-adorned skull cap, Run DMC-era Adidas sneakers and matching denim jacket and pants, Kowalczyk looked like one of the Latino gangstas in the movie “Stand and Deliver.” No longer the slightly inhibited college rock kid, he prowled the stage, slow grinding and playing up his sex symbol image.

Early on, the group’s song selection seemed to get personal — influenced by growing up in York, Penn. Raging through songs like “S*** Towne” and “All Over You,” Live was exorcising years of being teased by jocks and hicks and ignored by the pretty girls.

But as the show progressed, their set was mostly full of their greatest hits, albeit with plenty of thundering guitars.

The night’s first big surprise was during “Dolphins’ Cry,” when Counting Crows frontman Adam Durtiz snuck onstage in the darkness and shocked the crowd by singing the second verse. Between the pulverizing guitar riffs, Duritz and Kowalczyk crisscrossed and roamed the stage, taking turns to howl the chorus.

As a unit, Live is melody-focused, avoiding flashiness or dazzling guitar solos. They basically just try to bash the audience’s heads in. Not bad for a band that used to be known as Public Affection.

Opening their encore with “Lightning Crashes,” Kowalczyk face turned solemn as guitarist Chad Taylor plucked the tune’s easily recognizable chords. Kowalczyk’s voice curled around the slow strumming until he let loose at the end, wailing.

The peak of their show was “I Alone.” Although he taunted the crowd with his half-opened shirt, Kowalczyk never went shirtless like he did in the song’s video.

If Live was a beast with their ravaging guitars, Counting Crows stresses shimmering delicacy. The eight-piece outfit that formed in San Francisco in the late ’80s is a bouquet of sounds — adept at both electric and acoustic instruments. The group easily melds classic rock influences (The Band, Neil Young) with New Wave-y bands (the Pixies, R.E.M). What comes out are surprisingly detailed musical portraits to accompany the lyrics, even though the band members rarely leave the shadows.

Onstage and off, the group’s undisputed center is singer/songwriter Adam Duritz. All the Crows’ musical flourishes serve his voice and his words.

If Adam Duritz the songwriter is the uber-sensitive poet, Adam Duritz the performer is an actor. As he incessantly paces the stage, he’s a mass of dreadlocked head whips and hand gestures, punctuated with small leaps and the occasional pirouette. He often looks more like he’s addressing Yorick’s skull from “Hamlet,” instead of leading a rock band.

But he is compelling. Although some have written him off as whiney or chided his vocal abilities, what makes him so successful as both a singer and songwriter is that he’s believable. The hint of pain he imbues on this night in the song “Anna Begins,” or the self-deprecating swagger in “Mr. Jones,” Duritz convinces the listener that these aren’t just words on a page. He breaks through and knows how to connect (maybe he is an actor).

At this particular show, he just couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Between songs, he told stories — which dealt primarily with Prince. With a wide grin, he recalled how excited he was when the band’s first show in Minneapolis years ago was at First Avenue, the club prominently featured in Prince’s “Purple Rain.” However, only four people came to hear them. Later, he remembered how he passed on a possible chance to meet the Purple One. Instead, he received a box of Prince paraphernalia (including a tambourine) at his house.

Although the Crows have a reputation for altering their classics, on this night, they stayed fairly loyal to the recorded versions (any variations came from Duritz’s vocals). A swirl of guitars and organ pushed “Catapult” to a crescendo while the roar of “Angels Of The Silences” was one of the brief moments that the band showed its teeth. Even “Mr. Jones” was performed in all it’s melodic glory.

On the slower songs like “Recovering The Satellites,” “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream” and “A Long December,” the group labored to build the drama.

To kick off the encore, Oasis’ “Live Forever” got the solo piano Durtiz treatment. To imagine what this sounds likes, trade Liam Gallaghers’ snotty-English whine for Duritz’s somber one and some sparse piano chords. (Later, Duritz was able to work the first verse of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” into the bridge of a song. I could hear a girl nearby complaining that Durtiz was singing the wrong words!)

For the grand finale, the Crows invited Live and Unified Theory to come onstage for “Hanginaround.” With assorted band members, girlfriends and even some groupies joining in, what is really a big singalong came off surprisingly well. Kowalczyk lingered in the background until it was his turn to sing a verse. While both he and Durtiz hopped on and off the stage monitors, everyone else played whatever they could get their hands on, grinding and grooving to tune’s saloon-style piano. After it was all over, the last word went to Crows bassist Matt Malley who teased the audience with a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

As both bands announced from the stage, they plan to head home after this leg of the tour. However, according to comments that Duritz made in a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine, both groups might hit the road together again next year. Duritz said that they’re considering doing another joint tour next year, possibly adding more opening bands and making the tour more of a festival-type event.

For both Counting Crows and Live, the mantra of “better to burn out than fade away” doesn’t seem to fit. And it’s not something that either act seems intent on doing. Hopefully in the future, they will certify that there can be success after success.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2000 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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