Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket Bayou Music Center July 29, 2014
It would be easy to assume that a Counting Crows concert featuring Toad the Wet Sprocket would be a nostalgia-laden '90s throwback showcase, but that would be highly inaccurate. There certainly was some pre-millennial love in the air Tuesday night, but the Crows did not come to remind Houstonians that they were a great band two decades ago. They came to remind us that they are a great band, period.
Back in 1993, when his dreadlocks and fame were both considerably smaller, Crows lead singer Adam Duritz told the world (and his pal Mr. Jones) that he wanted to be Bob Dylan. That statement was seemingly based on the desire to write deeply meaningful lyrics that connect with audiences; in this case, Duritz and the Crows have succeeded.
Dylan rarely plays his best-known songs in concert, and the Crows did not play "Mr. Jones" Tuesday. They simply didn't have to, as Bayou Music Center's audience was completely invested in the band's performance, top to bottom.
Instead of greeting the crowd when they began, the Crows opened with the surprising choice of megahit "Round Here." While most bands opt for a high-energy, "get on your feet and let's start the party" opener, "Round Here" is a slow song that would typically get tucked away mid-concert. Tuesday, the crowd was treated to a unique version that intertwined with the new song "Palisades Park" (rife with 1960s Factory references, another Dylan connection), and infused with a spoken-word poetry vibe. The effect was almost enrapturing.
Somehow this version made the band's music seem like it has aged in reverse; it sounded newer and fresher than it did even when it was released. The band managed to take a song that means so much to its audience and reinvent it into something totally new, without alienating the fanbase that made them famous. This is what the audience was given all night: new music by Counting Crows, which included their old music.
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Duritz himself is in his own right a precursor to many of today's singer-songwriters; several songs directly recalled Conor Oberst's storytelling style, with the more melodic sensibilities of an Ed Sheeran. The diverse set list presented an indecipherable difference between older classics like "Omaha" (including an amazing accordion solo) to new songs like "Scarecrow," a Neil Young-esque track from upcoming LP Somewhere Under Wonderland. Another new one, "God of Ocean Tides," sounded as if it could have been plucked off any of the band's early albums, but not in a tired way at all.
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As a stage act, the Crows did not get famous with witty audience banter and zany antics. Throughout the entire evening Tuesday, they almost solely interacted with the crowd through their music. For a band that became big stars, none of them behave in this vein, and none are personally big stars at all -- with the possible exception or Duritz's hair, which was crazier and more muppet-like than ever.
The concert also showcased the Crows' musical versatility. They infused "Mercury" with Texas Country, Stevie Ray Vaughan slide and 1960s soul, creating an infectious groove that made the crowd dance. New track "Cover Up the Sun" blended zydeco into the mix as it referenced Louisiana and the Texas border, which of course everyone loved. In fact, much of the Crows' music is rich with Americana, with references to cities from California to Nebraska to Ohio to the South appearing on multiple tracks.
The three-song encore looped back to "Palisades Park," a clever way to tie the show together. Counting Crows is a group of talented storytellers, and the story they told Tuesday was clear: They will continue to uphold the beauty of the songs that established them, while also producing quality new music that should only garner more fans to come.
So, How Was the Opener? Toad the Wet Sprocket shared that they have taken a 16-year break without making any new music, and it was nice to see they were excited about getting back into creation mode. Their new songs were decent and the crowd reacted favorably, but '90s hits like "Good Intentions" and "All I Want" were what really made people smile. A smart choice as an opener for Counting Crows: Toad got the crowd singing and moving and excited for the headliner.
Personal Bias: Words cannot express how happy I was that I didn't have to hear the Crows' bastardized version of "Big Yellow Taxi," which I wish would fall down a well and never return. On the flipside, "A Long December" and "Rain King" made me the happiest girl in the room, and new song "God of Ocean Tides" has inspired me to pre-order Wonderland as soon as I am done writing this article.
The Crowd: Holy khakis, Batman! This crowd was precisely what I thought it would be: white people who looked very "'90s."
Overseen in the Crowd: Is it just my luck that the one extremely iPhone-addicted girl in the whole venue had to sit directly in front of me? The second she sat down, she took a selfie with her boyfriend and proceeded to test out every filter at least three times before choosing one, posting it to Instagram and Facebook, and then checking every minute to read and respond to comments. I highly doubt she will remember anything about the concert. Hello, world: we are raising a generation of narcissists who don't actually experience anything.
Random Notebook Dump: I've never been to a show at Bayou with floor seats. It was actually pretty refreshing.
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