Counting Crows: A Quarter Century And Counting

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Counting Crows (Photo courtesy of PMK*BNC)

Counting Crows may not have released an album since 2014’s Somewhere Under Wonderland, but the band hasn’t exactly been laying dormant. This year finds the Bay Area band hitting the road with their old friends in Live for the 25 Years and Counting Tour, which commemorates a quarter century since the Crows released its 1993 debut August and Everything After. The decision to go on tour with Ed Kowalczyk and the guys in Live was a no-brainer for Counting Crows vocalist Adam Duritz, whose relationship with his band’s special guests goes about as far back.
“Ed and I were drinking buddies in L.A. I’d see him when I first moved to L.A.and those guys were always around, so I would hang out back then,” he explained. “And we’ve done several tours together as well. My first memory of [Ed] was a year or two before our first album came out and their first album came out, they had this video where he’s on the beach and he’s just in jeans, barefoot with no shirt. He’s singing this song on the beach and while I can’t remember what song that was, it’s my first memory of him. I’ve known him that long.”

With seven studio albums from which to choose from, the Counting Crows canon runs pretty deep. And not unlike their Northern California brethren The Grateful Dead, the Crows have not only encouraged fans to come record and distribute bootlegs of their high energy shows, but they’re equally capricious when it comes to deciding the set-lists from one show to the next. Ask Duritz what fans can expect and he’s honestly unsure in terms of what songs are going to be played any given night.

Adam Duritz (near right) hanging with buddy Ed Kowalczyk of Live at a recent event at Live Nation headquarters in Manhattan (Photo by Dave Gil de Rubio)

“I never know. We change the set every night and the songs change every time we play them. We don’t plan much more than a few hours ahead. It’s a mixed set list every night around dinnertime,” he said. “What you can be certain of I guess is that we’ll be completely passionate about what we’re doing because whatever we’re playing that night is exactly what we want to play that night or we wouldn’t be playing it.”

The consummate music fan, Duritz has indulged himself well beyond serving as Counting Crows’ singer. He not only founded two separate labels (E Pluribus Unum and Tyrannosaurus Records), but actively signed acts. This passion isn’t surprising given that the Baltimore native grew up in Oakland and was more caught up with the writing process over singing.

“I’d sung all my life, but so what? What are you going to do with that? I love theater, but it’s not much part of our culture and I don’t much like directors,” he said. “It was when I started to write songs was when I felt like this was something that I wanted to do with my life. Singing was just something that I did as a kid thing—like a hobby. But writing—writing was different. Then I literally wrote a song and the moment I finished the song, I sat there playing it by myself and I just felt like I was a songwriter. That literally was what it was. It was life changing. I don’t know any other way to describe it. I felt completely defined at that moment.”

Since releasing August and Everything After in 1993, the Counting Crows have been a constant presence on the road, drawing comparisons to The Band, Van Morrison and R.E.M. While the commercial and critical acclaim has been fairly constant, they’ve fallen victim to how broken the current music industry model has gotten in recent years, especially given the rise of streaming services like Spotify. It’s no accident that it’s been four years and counting since the Crows have deigned to release any new material. Not unlike many other bands, Duritz and company are trying to figure out their next move, even as he keeps writing and his band continues booking gigs and playing live for their fans.

“I’ve got a lot of pieces of songs. I’m just a little hesitant to finish them right now because I’m a little unsure of how to put out music right now. I kind of made everybody in our organization take some time, do some research and come up with some thoughts about better ways to get our music out there,” he said. “My last album was my favorite one that we’ve ever done. I loved [2014’s] Somewhere Under Wonderland. It got really good critical reviews this time and didn’t make much of an impression on the culture and I’d like to sort of change that for the next one.”

Counting Crows will be appearing with Live at Aug. 22 at Northwell at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy, Wantagh. Visit www.jonesbeach.com or call 800-745-3000 for more information.

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