Music

Counting Crows flew over Syracuse and brought some bangers with them

Alexandra Moreo | Photo Editor

Counting Crows has been rocking out to their fans for more than 25 years. The group has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.

UPDATED: Sept. 11, 2017 at 12:16 a.m.

Adam Duritz sat on the front-of-stage speakers, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. Dressed in ripped jeans, a Kansas band T-shirt and a blue, distressed beanie, he sang Counting Crows’ 1994 mid-album hidden banger “Omaha” while bandmate Charlie Gillingham ripped through the song’s signature riff on accordion.

Just before that, Duritz decided he should say hello to his audience, which he usually doesn’t do until four or five songs in. He explained how this became an inside joke between him and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas, that the title of the next Crows album should be “I Forgot To Say Hi.”

“So, f*cking hi,” Duritz said before launching into “Omaha.”

He made a 17,000 person audience feel as if they were listening in on a casual jam session. And that’s exactly what makes Counting Crows who they are — a live band.

“Why are they opening for Matchbox Twenty?” longtime Counting Crows fan Lauren Kanoush asked half rhetorically, half dead serious. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

Either way, Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows made a stop at Syracuse’s Lakeview Amphitheater Saturday night as part of their A Brief History of Everything Tour.

But before Counting Crows came out for an hour-long set, Matchbox Twenty’s guitarist Kyle Cook led his side project band, Rivers and Rust, for an opening set.

With a brand of modern Texas rock not unlike The Civil Wars, singer Sheila Marshall crooned out a number of twangy ballads, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”

It was a good night for covers at Lakeview. One of Matchbox Twenty’s encore songs was Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” also known as the song that plays at the end of “The Breakfast Club” as Bender triumphantly punches his fist into the air on the football field.

Matchbox Twenty played all their crowd pleasers, including “Push,” “3AM,” “Bright Lights” and “How Far We’ve Come,” which the audience greeted with a particularly fanatic enthusiasm.

Lead singer Rob Thomas is the type of artist who takes extra measures to involve his audience. At one point he ran from center stage to a fenced off area on the front lawn, singing next to fans, so close they could see the whites of his eyes.

He also pulled up a girl celebrating her birthday on stage. She sung in guitarist Paul Doucette’s microphone and strummed his guitar while he held the shape of a chord.

He even asked the audience to do that corny thing where you wave your phone flashlight in the air, and the sea of LED lights lit up the venue.

But with Counting Crows’ signature improvisations and brand of fall vibes — you could describe it as “August and Everything After” — their onstage music was definitely the most intricate of the night. One of the biggest moments came when the band improvised on “Mr. Jones,” its breakout hit and the song that everyone knows. Saturday night’s version was different from the album version on “August and Everything After,” with an extended bridge and a guitar solo.

Although Duritz has sung that song so many times, it was still evident how much he enjoys performing it, especially in the second verse, when he sings, “Well I’m a paint my picture / paint myself in blue, red, black and grey,” counting off on his fingers.

He went on, “all of the beautiful colors are very, very, very, very meaningful,” adding more very’s than needed. The whole time he was smiling. He basked in drummer and childhood friend Jim Bogios’ jamming at the end.

Duritz has a very distinct stage presence. He’s expressive with his body movements, but in slightly offbeat ways. During “Rain King,” which opens with the lyric, “When I think of heaven / deliver me in a black-winged bird,” Duritz spread his fingers and held his hand on top of his hand, mimicking feathers, and flapped his arms a few times.

While playing “Colorblind,” he barred his emotions, eyes closed and almost shaking. Opening with “Sullivan Street,” another slow-down song, he stood with his hands in his pockets.

Counting Crows’ catalogue, especially the early stuff, is in the “sweet sadness” category, but they still bring the energy of a rock band. During “Rain King,” Gillingham jammed and improvised on piano as Duritz jumped around the stage and guitarist David Immerglück shredded some solos. They pulled out Thomas at the second verse — a move that made those in the audience practically lose their minds. They dueted, singing at each other.

Duritz hoisted his microphone stand in the air, pointing the mic at an audience that sang along with every word.

The story has been updated with appropriate style.

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