Thursday night brought Counting Crows' "Traveling Circus & Medicine Show" tour to Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre, which frankly, was a big flop.
The idea of the tour is that instead of the supporting acts, Augustana and Notar, playing traditional opening sets, the night would be one big show, with band members joining in on each other's songs resulting in a harmonious and unique show. What we ended up with is a 24-song set completely lacking flow in which only ten of the songs are Counting Crows songs. The other 14 songs were either covers or songs by Augustana or Notar.
The curtain came up with all the members of Counting Crows, Augustana and Notar on stage. The crowd stood and grooved to the first six songs, starting with a cover of Van Morrison's "Caravan" and then their classic "Omaha." The crowd even stayed excited for the hip hop song "Stranger" by Notar, who put on a good show and was joined by Adam Duritz for the song.
But as soon as Augustana took the stage and began playing their hit song "Boston," most of the crowd sat and got chatty. I can't say that I blame them, because Augustana sounded horrible, especially lead singer Dan Layus whose voice sounded thin and frail. He also kept apologizing for the band's set, not because he sounded bad, but because they knew the crowd wanted to see Counting Crows. To that I say, nobody's forcing you to do the tour. I'm sure many of us would have been happy to have you stay home.
Counting Crows returned for a pair of songs before taking an intermission, which seemed a bit unnecessary considering the format of the show. When they returned, they started with "When I Dream of Michaelangelo" from their latest album Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, which fell a little flat.
Then they launched into "A Murder of One" which got the crowd up and excited, but that's when the much discussed sound issues at the amphitheater became very apparent, though they'd been present throughout the night. The band didn't get the decibel bump that Phoenix's recent show got, so they were stuck with 90dB. Adam Duritz even mentioned the limit on Twitter earlier in the day saying "Weird decibel level rules at tonite's Cary, NC show. You can't go over 90dB. Q: How in hell do we pull that off? A: Fire all the gtr players."
The Crows sound engineer's solution for this problem seemed to be to compress everything, leaving the vocals and guitars muddy and the mix heavy in bass and drums. So what should have been a big distorted rock song, "A Murder of One," sounded timid. Not only that, but the band played the song for about 15 minutes, which didn't help the situation.
Mix problems plagued the set, which you can't totally blame the engineer for, because a 90dB limit is unheard of in other venues.
In the second set, Notar returned for a few songs which injected a bit of energy into the evening, but Augustana returned for another three songs which were no better than the first four. Counting Crows returned for two big hits "A Long December" and "Hangin' Around" which sounded weak.
The entire ensemble quickly returned to the stage to perform another Crows classic, "Rain King," and closed the set with "This Land is Your Land."
With all that said, I'm a product of the 1990s and enjoyed Counting Crows' music during my formative years and still think it's pretty good. I've seen them numerous times in the past at both indoor and outdoor venues and they sounded great and put on exceptional shows. This new concert format just simply doesn't work though. People in the reserved seats paid more than $60 to see a Counting Crows show (which is already a bit ridiculous for a band on the back end of the bell curve that is their career) and they didn't really get a Counting Crows show.
Caravan (Van Morrison cover)
If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead)
4 White Stallions
Shot in the Dark
Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)
Delta Lady (Joe Cocker cover)
When I Dream of Michaelangelo
A Murder of One
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
This Land is Your Land
[all photos by Kevin Norris]