Koka Booth is such a weird little venue; I’m not sure what possessed Cary to put a gorgeous, beautifully acoustic-ed 5,000 seat outdoor amphitheatre somewhere that it would attract big rock groups — only to have the town tell the bands that they couldn’t play louder than a certain decibel level. (Adam Duritz was Not Happy about it, either. I’d love to see more groups complain publicly and vocally about how the restrictions suck, because they do.) Maybe Cary didn’t intend for such riff-raff as Counting Crows, Augustana and NOTAR to play there. Symphonies only, Cary? Was that the plan? You planned badly. Anyway, point blank, the mix all night was pretty awful — slurry vocals, and the guitars were far clearer up front than they were in the back. That’s not the problem of the tour, obviously, it’s a problem of Cary, but it’s worth mentioning.
That didn’t stop Adam Duritz from trying to rock the hell out of the place, though — he remains, as meganwest told me a few weeks ago when I was waffling on whether or not to go to this show, a consummate showman. He can still sell the hell out of a song (as long as it’s a good song to sell; y’all, I still don’t like the stuff of Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, and not even live versions changed my mind) and the idea behind the Travelling Circus and Medicine show, that all three bands play two continuous sets, mixing songs and members as needed or wanted, is a good one. Adam Duritz’s energy pulls energy from everyone else on stage, when he’s there, and I thought the evening was at its best when all three bands were playing together, as in the up-tempo openers, a cover of Van Morrison’s “Caravan” and the old-school “Omaha”.
(Side note: how come the College World Series never uses “Omaha” for its promo? How come I am subjected to year after year of O.A.R. until I have CWS-and-O.A.R.-related Stockholm Syndrome and think I actually like the song ESPN is playing? Fail, NCAA.)
For me, the highlights of the evening were the older Counting Crows songs — Omaha, 4 White Stallions, Richard Manuel Is Dead, a fifteen minute fusion of Murder of One with Goodnight Elisabeth, and a stunning, stunning super-group version of “Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)”, which just blew me away — and the covers, Morrison, Joe Cocker, and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”. (After accidentally unearthing a studio cover of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” that the Crows did, I guess, as a bonus track for Hard Candy, I was a little disappointed not to hear that one. Oooof, that song. Man.) NOTAR also blew me away, because the guy’s got some serious stage presence. I don’t see or shoot much hip hop, but he made me want to do both more often.
But the place where this tour flags, unfortunately, is Augustana, which sucks, because I was really excited to see them. When all three bands are on stage, it works, the format and the songs and the energy — crowd in the palm of Adam’s hand and everything. Point blank, however, Dan Layus doesn’t have the chops to carry arenas the size he’s being forced to carry, when Augustana plays a few songs by themselves, mid-set. I have zero doubt that they would be amazing in a place the size of the Cradle, or maybe even the Lincoln, but something about their sound or Layus’ stage presence or some detail, it just doesn’t quite sell in a 5000 seat open air place.
It sucks because Augustana is a better band than that, but as I said to this Adam last night, Counting Crows have never played anywhere smaller than the platonic ideal of the big amphitheatre; August and Everywhere After blew up so hard and so fast, I would guess they played some smaller shows in San Francisco or Berkeley prior to release, but the majority of their touring career has been playing Big Venues, and those are the only places Adam Duritz has ever had to learn to play to. He’s great at it — his stage presence is built for big stages like that. Augustana’s touring hasn’t been entirely like that, not even after two summers of touring with the Crows. (I mean, they played the Cradle earlier this year or last year, right? Did I make that up in my head solely to prove my point? I might have, but I think not.)
I don’t mean to pick on Layus or his band — not at all, in fact, since they did give me the above shot, which is the best photo I’ve taken in 2010 — but they are, without a doubt, the place where the flow of the set flags. Shorten their solo sets, maybe, from 7 total songs down to 5, drop another stellar cover in there, and pull out a few more old Counting Crows hits, and this tour would kill.
But all that said: it was a super enjoyable night. I had a blast shooting, and then I had a blast sitting back in the crowd, drinking a beer and singing along to songs I’ve known and loved for years. Adam Durtiz still has it. I’d shoot them again in a heartbeat.
Set list: 1: Caravan (Van Morrison cover)/Omaha/If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead)/Stranger/4 White Stallions/Sundays/Boston/Dust/Hurricane/Shot in the Dark/Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)/Delta Lady (Joe Cocker cover)
2: When I Dream of Michaelangelo/A Murder of One/Matador/Reach/Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan cover)/It Only Means I Love You/Sweet and Low/I’m Gonna Steal Your Heart Away/A Long December/Hangin’ Around
Encore: Rain King/This Land is Your Land
Sneak Attack Media hooked me up with the photo pass (thank you, Marni!). @crowsetlists helped me fill in the holes in my set list.