(Article by Julie Seabaugh)
We all have guilty pleasures – and Counting Crows is mine. Each year, I swear it’ll be absolutely the last time I follow the band on tour. And yet, like clockwork, there I am: first one, then three, then five and eight shows.
True, 1993’s August and Everything After was a roots-rock masterpiece and 1996’s dark Recovering the Satellites was a worthy follow-up, but 1999’s This Desert Life was merely decent and 2002’s Hard Candy was an out-and-out letdown. March’s Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings topped its predecessor, but only marginally.
Musicanship aside, the bigger point of contention is ultimately dreadlocked frontman Adam Duritz. Chronically defensive in his blog posts, his interaction with the CountingCrows.com message board has and continues to include calling fans sacks of shit, weasels, and, in what has become a running in-joke, “incredibly unpleasant people,” all originally stemming from an incident involving the solicitation of funds to purchase childhood friend Mary-Louise Parker a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But then Duritz gets onstage, bats those puppy-dog eyes, sends that bottom lip a-quivering, and damn. Dude can sing real pretty. Between the prolonged eye contact during “Anna Begins” and the way he crouches out and tenderly extends his hand toward audience members during the “How do you do?” crescendo of “Ghost Train,” all is forgiven. (And “Ghost Train” is as far from a personal favorite as they come.)
He alters lyrics, time signatures and even entire songs (both old and new), to suit that evening’s particular mood. The result is a unique, exhilarating concert experience every single time. Duritz willfully defies greatest-hits pandering or choreographed interactions, instead letting the music flow on its own volition.
While the result isn’t always perfect – witness the “Long December” piano goofs, the flailings, the falls, the several serious injuries sustained as an of-the-moment by-product – it’s a rarity. As he put it in a July 17 conference call, “I get real lost up there. Sometimes I’ll just blank out on a lyric and just make something up… There’s a big, big difference between having a good voice and being a good singer. Communicating stuff from your heart to your mouth is a whole different art.”
For every emo-punk band that cites him as a dominant influence (Panic at the Disco, Between the Buried and Me, which was named after a line in "Ghost Train"), though, there's a tongue-lashing against fans who question his own inspirations:
June 2, 2004 - Greenwich Village, NYC: “God, you people are trolls. The idea that I have less artistic integrity in one nose hair than some twit in his/her basement writing anonymous hate mail is beyond ridiculous… You're not as deep as you think you are. You're just missing out. When one is in love, one should write love songs, preferably happy ones. It seems "sellout-ish" to me to write sad songs to please you just because you're sitting in your basement bummed out. When I go back down to my basement, i'll write sad songs. until then, these songs are still MY form of expressing how I feel. You have these these nasty little spiteful messages to express how you feel.
Even today, in the midst of a successful co-headlining tour with Maroon 5, Duritz refuses to take message-board criticism lightly:
September 20, 2008 Portland, Oregon, 1 a.m.: We don't suck much. We may not play the show YOU want but whatever show we play, we pretty much play the hell out of it these days. If you thought we sucked, you were probably drunk or on painkillers or something. Or maybe you just suck.
I read the message boards every day. I know all I see all. You can't hide from me.
With SNSM’s release, Duritz revealed a long battle with depression and a dissociative disorder, which may explain some of his more off-putting tendencies. Then again, it may also explain why his highly personal, deeply introspective lyrics ring so true. They’re tortured, tragic and cutting; why should the vulnerable artist behind them be any different?
It happens. Given enough time and scrutiny, heroes are unmasked as ordinary folks with ordinary faults. Trends pass, tastes change. Duritz himself offers a fitting metaphor in This Desert Life’s’s opening track, “Hanginaround”: “I been bummin’ around this old town for way, way, way, way too long.” But whereas the singer hopped a bus at the video’s conclusion, it takes more than geographic distance to leave fifteen years of indelible memories behind.
As with any cooling relationship, it’s time to move on. Embrace new beginnings, explore new horizons. That’s what I keep telling myself: “Just one more show and that’ll be it…” Well, at least until the next tour rolls around…
Counting Crows plays with Maroon 5 and Augustana. 8 p.m. Saturday, September 27. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, 14141 Riverport Drive, Maryland Heights. $36.50 to $76. 314-298-9944.