Counting Crows, Rob Thomas Embrace Nostalgia on Picturesque Night in The Woodlands

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Counting Crows, Rob Thomas
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
September 26, 2016

There’s some humility in finding out firsthand that the bands of your youth are now nostalgia acts — big-business, amphitheater-playing ones, but nostalgia acts nonetheless. As much was evident during Counting Crows’ and Rob Thomas’s double bill in The Woodlands on Sunday night.

The two acts, who found multiplatinum success in the ’90s, played before a packed house on a gorgeous night that almost (almost!) felt like fall. That house included a throng of fortysomething suburban types – some of whom brought their kids along for what was certainly a family-friendly show – many of whom sang along to every Crows or Matchbox 20 lyric for the duration of the three-and-a-half-hour set.

Thomas – who made his commercial bones as the lead singer for pop-rock gods Matchbox 20 – was a pleasant surprise as a pseudo opener for Counting Crows. While I'm a big fan of Matchbox 20’s early material (yeah, that’s right, Matchbox 20 is worth defending), Thomas’s solo catalog often felt like an attempt at a pop superstar transformation that never quite took.

That said, Thomas captivated the crowd – which had pretty much already filed in by the time he took the stage for his 75-minute set – by mixing cuts from his solo catalog with hits of yesteryear from his band of yesteryear. That included hits like “Bent” and “Unwell,” as well as an acoustic version of the smash single “3 a.m.” (the second-best song Matchbox 20 ever recorded, just behind “Hang”).

Thomas, who had to change shirts a couple of times because of such profuse sweating, certainly earned such a wardrobe change, as he energetically ripped through track after track. Dude even went into the crowd for a spell to liven up the festivities. 

Most admirable in Thomas’s set was his embracing not only Matchbox 20, but the band’s imprint on pop music more than two decades ago. He not only played Matchbox tracks, but gave backstory behind how some of them were written. Many a front man who ventures out on his own can’t be bothered to pay homage to the band that got him there in the first place; kudos to Thomas for bucking that trend.

By the time Counting Crows took the stage a little after 9 p.m., the crowd was ready to hear some hits. Adam Duritz and company didn’t disappoint, and led off with hits from days gone by like “Round Here” and “Omaha.”

During a stop in Houston in 2014, Duritz was somewhat chatty yet mostly reserved. Sunday night saw a reversal of sorts, as the Crows’ front man was downright talkative for much of the band’s set. He spoke of the need to vote to make change (he did not get political and take a side, which is kind of refreshing) and made other various banter with the crowd.

Whether Duritz and crew took exception to a recent Press article chastising their inability to play “Mr. Jones” the last time through Houston is debatable – no, it isn’t; there’s no way in hell they read the article. Either way, the Crows dusted off their biggest hit this time around, and while Duritz tinkered with the tone of the song just enough to keep sing-along types on their toes, it was nice to see the band pay tribute to a pop hit that lives on 20 years after it release.

By the time the show-closing “Holiday in Spain” tuned up, much of the crowd had filed out, which is a shame. They missed a group of industry veterans delivering a gaggle of hits that sent the crowd (which gets older every year, it seems) home happy.

So How Was the Crowd?: Well, it was rocking…until it wasn’t. Look, I understand the pavilion is a bit of a hike from Houston proper, and I certainly understand the need for rest on a Sunday night. That said, those who began filing out DURING Thomas’s set, and those who only made it a few Crows tracks in before leaving, are among the reasons Houston isn’t exactly greeted as a live music capital. Plus, why pay good money for tickets if you’re going to bail halfway through? Having said that, props to the drunk guy next to me and the plus-1 who didn’t lose one ounce of steam during the Crows' 100-minute set. He threw his fist in the air and sang along to every track, even more subtle fare like “A Long December.”

Overheard in the Crowd: “When I first heard that during soundcheck, I thought Willie Nelson was really here.” – one of the ushers, when Thomas busted into a full-length cover of Willie and Waylon’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

Random Notebook Dump: What a night in Houston! The temperature was in the 70s, the humidity was manageable and nostalgia was in the air. Summer temps aren’t exactly gone for good, but for one night, at least, they took a break.

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