Just over two years ago, veteran pop-rock mainstay Counting Crows only filled the BMO Harris Pavilion to about a quarter of its capacity in one of the young venue’s first non-Summerfest bookings. This time around, the dynasty act fared much better, easily doubling the turnout in the smaller-yet-still-sizable Riverside Theater, especially as a show taking place indoors on a Wednesday during the dog days of summer. On the weight of 1993 debut/pinnacle August & Everything After alone, Counting Crows had more than enough fan-favorite fodder to fill a setlist to the gills. Instead, the band focused on everything after, and stretched just 18 songs—primarily deep cuts, covers, or new, past-prime material—over two hours.
After Baraboo’s own Daniel And The Lion padded its already swelling local reputation with a solid showing, and Toad The Wet Sprocket brought forth nostalgic fun in its tour return after a five-year absence, Counting Crows started strong with an extended version of August… opener “Round Here” that served to suggest an evening of expected-yet-appreciated re-visitations of songs that played a huge role in nearly filling The Riverside on a weeknight. Think again! Seven of the first 10 selections were tracks from 2012 cover record Underwater Sunshine and forthcoming album Somewhere Under Wonderland, due out September 2. Besides “Round Here,” the largest responses in the first half of the sluggish set came from “Omaha” (also off August & Everything After) and the title track from 1996 August echo Recovering The Satellites.
While the majority of the material didn’t seem to resonate with a lot of the audience (much of which retook their seats somewhere between song two and four), Counting Crows, to their credit, did play a tight and seasoned set. At 49, Adam Duritz is still an irrefutable front man, but is both physically and artistically a far cry from the dude who shacked up with Courteney Cox when the Crows murdered alternative music charts in the mid-1990s. As the rest of the band played out vanilla modern country knock-off “Scarecrow” (which we were twice told was just released on iTunes!), Duritz laid on the ground in front of the piano for roughly two minutes, neither singing nor moving. Other times, he completely outsourced lyrics that climbed especially high on the vocal register to the crowd—who eagerly complied. The audience response varied considerably. Diehards loved the heft of obscure cuts, welcomed lengthy interludes, and screamed along with lyrics about what “she said” (almost always something about California). Small pockets of them bounced and dad-danced for the duration. One girl (shoeless, obviously) far back in the balcony literally rolled in the aisles in enjoyment during new song “Cover Up The Sun.”
However, the split of mega fans and those just hoping to hear songs they knew (and tolerate all others) was made known when Duritz mashed piano keys for “Long December” some 90-minutes into the set. Again, almost everyone stood and sang along word-for-word. The same went for now-15-year-old This Desert Life single “Hanginaround” (which, again, found Duritz drop the “Way, way, way, way too long” bellowing at song’s end down a few octaves) that preceded a short departure and eventual Crows encore. Counting Crows re-emerged to force-feed the captive audience new single “Palisades Park” as the theater—some of whom had been there for more than five hours by that point—waited to hear the four or five hits the band had yet to play. One of them, “Rain King” specifically, came next. The classic garnered the largest response since “Round Here”—even with the ill-fitting five-minute “Oh! Susanna” interlude needlessly spliced into the song. Before the final song of the night, Duritz took time to read copy about great local organizations that offer aid to those in need, and he spoke highly of a quintet of Wisconsin-sired acts: Boom Forest, Phox, Daniel And The Lion, Foreign Fields, and Milwaukee’s own Field Report, saying, “I don’t know what you put in the water here, but fuck, drink up!”
Downtrodden Hard Candy standout “Holiday In Spain” was a satisfying exodus to an admittedly disappointing evening from a band who left many of its most beloved and iconic material in its back pocket. As the house lights went up, most people stood in place, expecting a second encore in which to finally hear “Mr. Jones,” “Accidentally In Love” or at least the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”—fair game with two other covers having been played already. Instead, Duritz said, “We’re really done.” Whether the singer knew it or not, maybe his parting statement had two meanings. With Counting Crows’ best material 21 years behind them and the devoted audience dejected after being served half-baked new material and covers instead of timeless hits that likely brought them to the theater, a return to the novelty act that brought just 900-some out to a 5,000-seat venue might not be far away.