July 18, 2013
America's Cup Pavilion
Better than: The Smashmouth/Sugar Ray/other mid-90s nostalgia-fest that's touring this summer. Sorry, Gin Blossoms, but no question.
It was the fall of 1997, and my friend S and I were in 8th grade, meaning it would be another 18 months at least before we started getting into riot grrl, or any other kind of music that carried weight beyond its mixtape-readiness, its tendency to be somewhere in Live 105's top 10 requested songs of the day. Meaning, really, that when we went to see Counting Crows and the Wallflowers play at Shoreline that September, it was mainly because we had overwhelming 13-year-old girl crushes on Jakob Dylan.
At Thursday's show, our 29-year-old selves decided this was completely justified. He is still a very attractive human being.
That important observation aside, the three hours that these two bands collectively spent on stage at America's Cup Pavilion made for a much more engaging, dynamic, dare we say it rollicking evening than we were expecting.
This is really saying something when you consider what said bands were up against by way of corporate doucheyness, which emanated from the venue for about a three-block-wide radius and ramped up at the entrance, with security guards confiscating a sad bagel sandwich in a baggie -- NO OUTSIDE FOOD ALLOWED -- from a young girl's backpack.
Under these circumstances, in chilly weather, with audience members prevented from congregating even peacefully near the stage, Adam Duritz, Counting Crows' songwriter and ringleader for the past two decades, played a respectably rocking show. By Duritz's own account, he's constantly grappling with mental illness; by many others' accounts, he's just kind of a diva. On Thursday, if nothing else, he was a committed showman.
Dressed in a Velvet Underground banana t-shirt, corduroys and a cardigan, signature dreads flopping about, he opened the two-hour set with "Mr. Jones," then bounced between lesser, more recent singles ("This song is off Underwater Sunshine, it's called Hospital, and it's about being fucking crazy"), folk-rock covers ("You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "Friend of the Devil"), and extended jam band takes on crowd favorites (nearly 15-minute versions of "Round Here," "Omaha," and "Rain King," where he talked, Beat poetry-style, through many of the lyrics, alternating emotion-wrenched hand gestures with emphatic points of the mic at the adoring, iPhone-waving audience, occasionally taking a break to stand in a Christ-like position on top of his amp).
Cheesy? Absolutely. But he gets away with it -- well, mostly -- for a couple reasons. For one, his six-piece band is made up of exceedingly skilled rock musicians; it was good to realize that back in the day, teen angst-friendly lyrics aside, it was the bittersweet, lilting melodies made by guitarists Dan Vickrey and David Immergluck and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham that really made our pubescent hearts swell.
But also: Duritz appears to mean it. When he announced breathlessly, post-encore ("Hanging Around," "Holiday in Spain"), that his nonprofit Greybird Foundation and the community service organizations Project Open Hand and Woman, Inc. had booths stationed just outside the show, he meant it. The hand-wringing, the deliberate hiccup-wail of his voice as he hit the chorus of "A Long December" -- when he's in the thick of his own writing, giving a performance his all, he has a way of defying cynicism. The sap seems, in a way that feels equal parts refreshing, reassuring, and embarrassing in 2013, to be entirely genuine.
As for Dylan, he got the shaft. There was no reason whatsoever for this show to start exactly at 7 p.m., especially when the venue was barely half-full. The husk in his voice is still rich, his band sounded tight, "Sixth Avenue Heartache" remains a very pretty song. Jakob, if you're out there: We're still listening.
-- Do 16-year-old kids know who Counting Crows are? Do they think about them the way we think about Phish?
-- We played "find a non-white person in the crowd" for a full 45 minutes before giving up.