Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Last night in Raleigh, the Counting Crows did not save “A Long December”
until the encore, or even for the end of their humid Wednesday evening set. Instead, the 1996 hit about hope in the face of abject despair came not long after the midpoint of the 90-minute show, embedded into the sequence with casual modesty—not the
hit, the order seemed to suggest, just another one. The band’s crew lugged a piano onto the stage. Adam Duritz sat behind it. The Crows played the tune, and the night continued, no Courtney Cox jokes or coronations required.
Perhaps they should have reconsidered that systemic lack of pomp: When the smash ended, the crowd kept conspicuously quiet, clapping and cheering with the same respectful and respectable volume they’d maintained throughout the night. People had sung along, of course, but the performance did not elicit the same thrall that’s to be expected from tunes that everyone in a throng of several thousand knows. But if the band wouldn’t give the song its fanfare, why should the fans?
In fact, that sense presided over the entire concert, a low-energy waltz of fumbled steps and modest ambitions. Acknowledging the summer shower that had passed through during the set of openers Toad the Wet Sprocket (who, mind you, understood that “Walk on the Ocean” needed to be played last), the Crows started with a low-key version of “Rain King.” The band shuffled behind the seven-part harmonies like they’d just finished a collective backstage nap. That feeling never really left, despite the overabundance of onstage strobe lights or the upbeat and thoroughly uninspired new songs the band previewed from the forthcoming Somewhere Under Wonderland.
The torpor stemmed, at least in part, from the vocal fatigue of Duritz, who skipped entire sections of songs where his voice needed to crack into falsetto and opted instead for a barely articulated mumble. The band roared as expected during “Children in Bloom,” but Duritz provided only a semblance of his original power, his words struggling to find space between the organ drone and the clattering drums. The yearning tone of “Round Here” had been calcified by age and experience; it felt hard and brittle, more than a touch pathetic against the liquefied air.
A friend who tracks the Counting Crows more closely than I do these days reported that Duritz had laryngitis, that his voice isn’t typically as bedraggled as it was last night. If that’s true, it explains a lot and offers a touch of an excuse, as his singing remains the point of intrigue for the band. Without it, a compelling performance is an uphill battle.
Still, it doesn’t explain the night’s overwhelming feeling of obligation—on behalf of the band, the fans and their required interaction with one another. The Counting Crows knew they needed to play a specific mix of certain songs; the new ones were carefully divvied among the hits, and Duritz qualified a cover of “Blues Run the Game”
by vowing it was a rarity. In turn, the crowd knew they needed to bow, at least a little, to the past, to cheer even when the guy they'd paid to see couldn’t hit the high notes.
But no one onstage or offstage ever transcended that contract. Really, it seemed like no one even cared to try.