REVIEW: A happy Adam Duritz (no, really!) and Counting Crows kick off summer tour right, tight in Tampa
TAMPA -- With his trademark dreadlocks looking miraculously bountiful, almost as if they were created in Jim Henson's Muppet workshop, Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz first took the Straz Center stage on Wednesday looking unsure, hesitant. The near-capacity crowd, just shy of 2,400, was equally wary. After all, as any fan of the '90s roots-rock survivors knows all too frustratingly well, you're never sure which head-trip Adam you're going to get. Loopy? Lucid? Lackadaisical? Or locked in to each romantically quavering song with a moving, yelping gusto?
In short: We got the last one, thankfully. The Crows, a hit-or-miss gang for sure, kicked off their summer tour with two hours of heart-swelling/heart-breaking goodness, the reason we fell in love with them -- and stayed in love with them. From opener Sullivan Street (one of five played from 1993 debut August and Everything After) through an assortment of hits, deep album cuts and covers (the Dead's Friend of the Devil especially), Duritz & Co. were in a giving, crowd-pleasing mood.
The even better news -- for them and us -- was that a trio of cuts from upcoming LP Somewhere Under Wonderland (the band's first original material in six years, due this fall) thrummed with slick hooks. Fans are so hungry for a good batch of fresh stuff that "new songs" were no time for bathroom breaks; instead, bouncy midtempo chuggers such as Scarecrow and Earthquake Driver were time to rejoice, to lock eyes with the person next to you in head-nodding relief, and maybe even disbelief: "This is GOOD." (For more on the new LP, and some awesomely depressing breakup stories, check out my recent interview with Adam.)
Oh, you could quibbble with the setlist. My quib? Only one selection from sublime sophomore record Recovering the Satellites, although that one song just happened to be A Long December, which proved to be a piano-pounded sing-along swooner. (Oh, and for some odd reason, their best-ever cut, A Murder of One, has a hard time cracking the setlist nowawadays.) Nevertheless, this was the Crows in top form: a crunchy jam-band with a curfew, all led by a lovesick diary-rambling fool.
There was plenty of gray hair in the crowd, mine included. But let it be known that there were also a whole lot of young women in their teens and 20s, which just goes to show the enduring power of Duritz. He knows how we cry and fret and stare at a lonely phone at midnight. He's been there; in fact, this guy LIVES there. So he dutifully delivered Anna Begins and If I Could Give All My Love -- or -- Richard Manuel Is Dead as if his life and sanity depended on it. He turns 50 in August, and yet his edgy, elastic voice remains undulled by time, allowing him to lean into the dirgelike Colorblind without diluting its quiet suckerpunch.
He's been known to get a little too loose in reworking a number, but just when Round Here and Rain King were about to wander off into the parking lot, he brought them back to resounding closes. Kudos to his sprawling crew, including guitarist Dan Vickrey and keyboardist-accordionist Charlie Gillingham, for ducking and weaving right along with their unpredictable leader. He routinely smiles lovingly at each one of his mates, and with good reason.
Duritz performed most of the show in a T-shirt that read "Demented and Sad but Social." That's Bender's line from The Breakfast Club, natch. But it might as well be Adam's catchphrase, too. When he can balance all three personalities just right, it's as if 1993 -- when he really was king, when his dreams of being the next Bob Dylan had a chance -- never flipped off the calendar.