The meds are apparently working. After years of being absolutely frank about the mental disorder that he says has tortured him for 30 years, Adam Duritz, the perennial Howard Stern guest and poster child for introspective, seriously troubled (some would say whiny and self-indulgent) rock stars was downright playful at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday night. Duritz led his band, the Counting Crows, through a 21-song set that, though more playing to the faithful than converting the unimpressed, showed a lot of fire remains in his belly.
Whether barking good-naturedly at roadies for giving him a piano in the wrong key, or flashing a broad smile during much of the set, the wisecracking, gum-smacking Duritz obviously was enjoying the final night of his band's latest world tour. And while the Crows haven't released an album of new material since 2008, a couple of new songs and Duritz' admission that they'll be working on a new record in the fall indicates he's not exactly contemplating retirement.
Thankfully avoiding the poppiest of their catalogue (such as the execrable “Accidentally In Love”) Duritz and his steel-wire-tight five-man band picked from some of their standards, from the show-opening “Mr. Jones” to a restructured”Rain King” at the set's end, more deep catalogue fare like “Mrs. Potter's Lullaby” and “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream,” and even dropped in covers of Teenage Fanclub and a rocking version of Gram Parson's “Return of the Grievous Angel.”
Both his trademark dreads and theatrical flamboyance were in full display Sunday and while the show's energy did dip those few times he seemed to want to duck for cover and hide within his songs, for the most part he seemed firmly in control and genuine.
For whatever reason (OK, it's because he's a jet-set celebrity gifted with enormous talent but who can't seem to stop complaining about his life) Duritz, and his band, is a flashpoint for many.. People either consider him one of the most gifted singers and lyricists of his generation or just wish he'd go away. The performance Sunday probably didn't change anybody's mind on either front. But this much is clear: now in their 20th year of playing together, the Crows have succeeded in accumulating something that longtime Orange County journalist Jim Washburn validly pointed out in a conversation with me years ago. At the time, he said their music sounded like “unlived experience.” Based on Sunday's performance, the band has grown into its music through a rather novel concept: lightening the fuck up.
Oh, the Wallflowers opened up. Other than Jakob Dylan eerily looking and, unfortunately, sounding, like his dad as he ages, it was remarkably unremarkable. One more note: remember the expansive lawn at the Pacific Amphitheater? The place to bring your blanket and your joints? It's gone. There's now a huge sand berm towering over the back of the venue. Aesthetically, it's horrible, but it's definitely improved the sound.
Overheard: “Hey, where'd the grass go?” Jakob Dylan.
Critical Bias: True confession: At a concert in San Diego many moons ago, Duritz brought at least one reviewer to tears via a cover of “Oh, Susanna.” That reviewer then changed his panties.
Random Notebook Dump: It's Orange County so sheriff's deputies were ubiquitous. However, when asked how many people they pop for breaking out weed, one informed me that they never go into the crowd unless asked to by Pac Amp brass.
The Crowd: Mostly Caucasoid, mostly grown ups, lots of bleached blondes with cowboy boots.