Thursday, November 15, 2018
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Review: Counting Crows, Live rewind a night of ’90s nostalgia at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg

At the same time President Donald Trump swooped into Tampa to entertain the masses Tuesday night, Counting Crows and Live were over on the other side of the bay, making another crowd nostalgic for the Clinton era.

"We're going to take you back to the good ol' days of blue dresses, presidential cigars and much larger cell phones," Live singer Ed Kowalczyk told the crowd of more than 5,000 at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.

Okay, yeah, that deserves a groan. But the '90s were a different time. And if any crowd was amped to celebrate the highs and lows of the Billary decade, it would be this one.

Counting Crows are celebrating their silver anniversary, Live a healthy reunion after years of legal acrimony. But of the two, only one band seemed truly into looking back.

"Welcome to this 25th anniversary crap," said Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz.

Oh, he wasn't really that grouchy. Mostly, Duritz carried himself with utmost nonchalance, hand in pocket, gum in maw, 'locks an unholy ferret's nest, meandering in and out of his spotlight while the Crows swarmed around him.

Counting Crows performed at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

The Counting Crows have a reputation for playing certain hits only when it suits them, and so it bears mentioning that on this anniversary tour stop, they didn't play Mr. Jones, the centerpiece of their 1993 debut August and Everything After. Nor Accidentally In Love, Angels of the Silences or several other notable ditties from their lush and bittersweet catalog.

RELATED: Adam Durtiz talks about Counting Crows' 25th anniversary, writing a memoir, the Golden State Warriors and more

What Duritz did was try his best to turn Al Lang's soccer pitch into a coffeehouse, interspersing the Crows' lovely, jazzy-Americana arrangements with scatty vocalizations and the occasional lyrical history lesson.

Sometimes he was successful, such as when he prefaced Omaha with tales of traversing the country, trying to channel the spirit of middle America through accordions and harmonicas and other instruments they and producer T Bone Burnett had to feel out. Or when he cut into Round Here by waxing romantic on his early Berkeley days, hanging in cheap clubs to lose himself in "deafening guitars and crashing drums; those are the sounds that carried us from childhood to adulthood."

Other memories, um, weren't so deep.

"This song is about a bunch of s—," he said before Goodnight L.A. "I don't know. Hit it, Jim."

Either way, he always had the Crows back behind him, and they remain a formidable flock. Good on Charlie Gillingham for leaping and climbing around with an accordion on Omaha and A Long December; and David Bryson, David Immergluck, Millard Powers and Dan Vickrey for enveloping each song in a warm, woolly sweater of strings, from guitars to banjos to mandolins to stand-up bass.

Counting Crows performed at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Live performed at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Live, too, was a picture of musical harmony, despite the discord of their last decade. Kowalczyk and guitarist Chad Taylor walked out arms around shoulders, and had no problem ripping through their biggest hits exactly the way fans remembered them.

"I know it's a Tuesday night," Kowalczyk said as the walloping chords of Lakini's Juice stomped and crunched around him, "but it's my job to turn it into Friday."

Live performed at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Despite Kowalczyk's profession of love for the Clinton Era, Live — who have, incredibly, been playing together since 1984 — plunged early into fully inflamed new single Love Lounge, a muscly song that suggests they might be after more than just the '90s nostalgia circuit.

Still, on all their big singles, Kowalczyk and Taylor chewed the stage like scenery. Taylor crashed through atmospheric riffs on The Dolphin's Cry; Kowalczyk's shirt was unbuttoned to the waist for a heroically received I Alone. They hugged shoulders again on the snarling White, Discusion, weaving in and out of the frontman's spotlight like old teammates. And when they closed with Lightning Crashes (placenta enthusiasts in the house say heyyyy!) they embraced and wore big smiles, bowing deeply to a crowd that had sung every word.

Live performed at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

As contentious as the 2010s can seem, Kowalczyk professed nothing but love for the '90s crowd before him, who decided to "turn off all the news and go to a rock 'n' roll concert!" (Somewhere across Tampa Bay, the president's ears must have been scorching.)

It happened during Counting Crows, too. Fans perked to attention and wrapped their arms around one another for Round Here, singing warmly of Maria from Nashville. They grooved to St. Robinson's snappy guitars and jaunty mandolins; bounced to the band's tin-pan funk ramblings on Hanginaround; and sang Colorblind right along with Duritz, his fragile voice trembling above a piano.

"I don't want it to seem like it's not important to us, because honestly, it's really amazing to have lasted this long," Duritz said of the band's anniversary. "Not just for our own participation, but the fact that some of you have been with us for 25 years is really incredible. But I can't get a handle on it at all, myself."

Give it another five years. Counting Crows and Live have aged all right so far. Thirty years is just around the corner.

— Jay Cridlin

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