Counting Crows Blend Past and Present in Satisfying Show

Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows love Miami so much, they not only visit South Florida with some regularity but they also wrote a song bearing the city's name. It's the type of wistful and sweeping pop rock the group has been known for over the course of its 20-year-plus career. Thursday night, the Crows returned to Bayfront Park Amphitheatre on the first stop of its U.S. 2015 Somewhere in Wonderland Tour.

Joining them in support were Hollis Brown and Citizen Cope. The former was brilliant while the latter was, well, not. Hollis Brown is an energetic quartet from New York with a punchy set of blues- and country-tinged songs. During the opening set, the four-piece focused on tracks from its latest album, 3 Shots, including the title track and first single and the jaunty and yearning “Sandy.” Hollis Brown's set was short but sweet, full of thumping, good, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll. The band was on point throughout. Even when one of lead singer Mike Montali's strings snapped early on, they didn't miss a beat, chugging happily along. 
Then came Citizen Cope. Best-known for the popular 2004 track “Sideways,” Clarence Greenwood, the man behind Citizen Cope, did pretty much the opposite of what an opening act is supposed to do. The barely awake, dread-headed singer mumbled song after song, lulling the audience into a foggy daze. Things picked up somewhat near the end when he laid down some gibberish over a vaguely reggae beat. Cope ended the set with "Sideways," nearly redeeming what came before. Nearly.

Although Counting Crows are touring in support of their seventh studio album, 2014's Somewhere in Wonderland, the set list didn't lean too heavily on the new record. They did play several tracks off of it, including the singles “Palisades Park” and “Scarecrow,” but the band also treated fans to a fairly comprehensive overview of its career. 

Counting Crow's walk-up music was Bill Withers' 1972 classic “Lean On Me.” It was a fitting insight into the Counting Crows' style and influences. Songwriters such as Withers, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison have always inspired and informed Duritz and his outfit. Last night's show reflected that, especially in the reinvigorating love and attention some of the group's older songs received.

In past interviews, Duritz has made it clear that Counting Crows don't play the same songs every concert and that they never get tired of playing certain hits. Judging from this show, it seems that whatever set list they do go with, they keep things fresh by tweaking here and there for themselves and for the audience. 
The set began in dramatic fashion with “Round Here,” the opening track from the seminal 1994 debut, August and Everything After. Using subtle, nuanced changes in his vocals and in the composition, the old haunt was reborn, as sad and as beautiful as the first time fans heard it.

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For those of us in our mid-30s and 40s (of whom there were plenty), songs like “Omaha” and “Mr. Jones” felt more spry. Duritz even invited audience participation during the former, holding out the mic to audience members as they gleefully filled in the spots he offered up for them.

Between the nostalgia and the newer, more vibrant tunes, the humidity of this warm summer evening became forgivable and forgettable. Or at least, it did until Duritz commented on it. “Is it this fucking hot every day? It's kind of awesome. It's sure as shit beautiful in the morning.” He chatted on and off with the crowd about, among other things, birthdays (such as his own upcoming 51st this Saturday) before launching into a series of heartfelt, acoustic songs. 
Some of the most jubilant crowd reactions came in response to “Big Yellow Taxi,” “A Long December,” and the closer, “Holiday in Spain.” Also greeted with cheers was “A Murder of One,” with its opening reverb, reminiscent of the Smiths “How Soon Is Now?,” echoing off the skyscrapers of the downtown Miami skyline. One of the central refrains in that song finds Duritz singing “Change, change, change.”

Thankfully, the Counting Crows have found a balance between adjusting and adapting. By not making wholesale changes, they ensure that they're still the band so many have adored for two decades.

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