Counting Crows at Hampton Beach
Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
Hampton Beach, NH
The Counting Crows are in the midst of a two-month summer tour with The Wallflowers, but when I caught up with them at the historic Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom it was a Counting Crows-only night. Adam Duritz and company eased into the show with deliberation, as if they were feeling their way into the evening.
They opened with a spare version of “Sullivan Street,” a classic slow track from their highly-regarded 1993 debut August and Everything After. A couple more mid-tempo numbers followed before the band kicked into high gear with a rollicking “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby.” They followed this with a tight and sharp take on “Hospital,” a cover of a Coby Brown tune that has become a fixture of their live shows over the last year.
The Counting Crows have been mixing up the set list from night to night as they start their tour, dropping in covers and deep cuts along with some of their better-known songs. A Dylan cover here, a Gram Parsons cover there, “Anna Begins” one night, “When I Dream of Michaelangelo” the next night. After a soulful “Goodnight Elisabeth,” they switched gears with “Four White Stallions,” a song that shows the influence of The Band on their sound.
Some groups take to mailing it in after 20 years on the road, blowing through their set list like it’s an obligation, and I approached another Counting Crows show with a little trepidation that that might be what I was in for. But it was most definitely not the case. I’ve seen the band four times now, at all different points in their career: in 1996, after their rocket to prominence on the back of their groundbreaking debut; in 2003, when they were sub-headlining for a young John Mayer; in 2007, when they joined fellow 1990s castaways Live and Collective Soul for a tour of minor league ballparks; and now in 2013. To my ears, they’re more relaxed and playing better than any of those previous tours. The pressure to be rock stars – which seemed to bedevil Duritz earlier in the band’s career – is gone. Now they’re just seven guys on a stage playing good music night after night. Both Duritz’s voice and the band’s playing never seemed sharper.
But as if to remind the band that they are still rock stars after all, an admiring fan tossed a black bra (size 34C) on stage in the middle of the set. A perplexed Duritz said, “You know, women are mysterious creatures,” before kicking into “Miami.” Other highlights of the two-hour set included a rock-hard version of “Hard Candy” and crowd-pleasing takes on “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Hanginaround” and, during the encore, another classic cut from August and Everything After, “Rain King.”