A few months ago, I found myself in a discussion with singer-songwriter Kasey Anderson and music critic Craig Jenkins. The point was raised that many of the alternative acts in the late ’80s and early ’90s were, if not in the Americana genre, at least adjacent to it. The Counting Crows certainly fit this description, with influences that include that include the Byrds, The Band, and Van Morrison, in addition to REM. Their brand of alternative meets folk-rock created a sound that, by appealing not only to young audiences, who favored the grunge of the early ’90s, but also to fans of classic rock.
The Counting Crows certainly attracted legions of devoted fans, many of whom packed into the theater at MGM Harbor on Friday night to see them on their tour behind the new Butter Miracle Suite EP.
The evening began with Englishman Frank Turner’s hour-long opening set. Having heard him now, I’m kicking myself for not getting around to his music sooner. Turner plays acoustic, folk-oriented music with punk energy. He’s something of a successor to fellow Brit Billy Bragg (who I also love). He told the audience that his goal was to become friends with everyone and, despite the theatre’s capacity of some 2,500 souls, he largely succeeded, making his set feel intimate. A real highlight of his set was “Be More Kind,” which he wrote about how we need to respect each other, even when we disagree.
Watch a visualizer for “Be More Kind” by Frank Turner on YouTube:
With just a mandolin player him accompanying, and his own acoustic guitar, Frank managed to rock the house. He brings an incredible energy, intensity, and passion to his live performance. The Crows’s frontman, Adam Duritz, commented on how the “music geek in me” was overjoyed at getting to see Frank play every night on the tour, “because he’s so damned good.” If you haven’t checked out Frank Turner’s music yet, I really encourage you to give it a listen.
From the moment the Crows took the stage, they had the crowd on their feet. Their set covered the entire span of their nearly three-decade career, plus a few well-chosen covers that paid tribute to their influence. They began with, “Round Here,” from their first album. August and Everything After, which went platinum and garnered Grammy nominations, remains a prominent part of their live set, which included performances of their smash hit “Mr. Jones,” the Sprinsteen-esque “Omaha,” and “Rain King,” which was inspired by Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King.
Recovering the Satellites, the band’s second album, continued their run of commercial and critical success. Duritz considered it the best of their work for some time, and it, too, continues to be a source of material for their live shows. The set included “Daylight Fading,” and a medley of “Goodnight Elisabeth” with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” At the end of the main set, an upright piano was brought onstage for Duritz to play on “A Long December.”
Watch the official music video for “A Long December” by Counting Crows on YouTube:
As the ’90s came to a close, the Crows continued their run of strong albums with Hard Candy. The set included “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream” as well as “Colorblind,” after which Adam addressed the crowd. The last few years, he said, had been “the longest I’ve gone without playing gigs since I was a teenager.” Following the layoff, he said, he “couldn’t remember how to do ‘Round Here.'” As the band’s performance proved, though, he definitely figured it out. Duritz expressed his appreciation for the Crows’ fans: “A band has a shelf-life of about a year and a half, maybe two years, before everyone stops giving a shit. We’re coming up on 30 years.” He was especially grateful, he said, because he and the rest of the band do not have “a lot of other employment options.” He also took the opportunity to acknowledge that it was the birthday of Sam from their crew.
Though the material is equally solid, the Crows drew less on their releases from the 2000s. From 2002’s Hard Candy, they played “Butterfly Reverse,” which Duritz co-wrote with Ryan Adams, and they closed their encore with “Holiday in Spain.” The only song from 2008’s concept album, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, “Washington Square,” was followed by a pair of covers: Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again” and Jackson Frank’s ’60s folk classic “Blues Run the Game,” on which Adam was accompanied by just David Immergluck’s mandolin.
In the back half of the set, the Crows covered the four songs on their latest release, the EP Butter Miracle, Suite One: “The Tall Grass,” “Elevator Boots,” “Angel of 14th Street,” and “Bobby and the Rat-Kings.” A cheering crowd brought them back for a spirted encore, which included “Palisades Park,” from 2014’s Somewhere Under Wonderland. For “Hanginaround,” they were joined onstage by Frank Turner.
Stream Butter Miracle Suite One by Counting Crows on Spotify:
The Crows know how to please their fans, and they delivered the goods Friday night. Their excellent performance was only enhanced by Frank Turner’s, making for a fantastic evening.
Here are some photos of Frank Turner performing at MGM National Harbor on Oct. 1, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Kyle Gustafson.
Here are some pictures of the Counting Crows performing at MGM National Harbor on Oct. 1, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Kyle Gustafson.