Shades of Gray
Counting Crows - Live - Galactic
New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park
August 5, 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2000, Volume 7, #9
Written by John Metzger
Chicago-based Counting Crows fans just can't seem to get a break. The group continues to find itself stuck inside the two worst music venues in the region — if not the country. During fall, winter, and spring, the band is forced to perform at the acoustically vapid Aragon Ballroom, while on its summer excursions, it is routinely packaged as part of triple-band bills at the equally dismal New World Music Theatre. In Chicago, it just doesn't seem to matter where it performs. The venue is always overcrowded, and the aural experience is consistently less than desirable.
Fortunately, this time at least, the crowd factor was minimized due to an overcast day full of scattered thunderstorms and torrential downpours. Sadly, however, other factors came into play to turn the August 5 concert into a rather disappointing evening. Crammed onto a bill at the New World Music Theatre with Live and Galactic, the Counting Crows was left with a mere sixty-five minutes to strut its stuff. In the long run, this may have been for the better. Frontman Adam Duritz, who proclaimed he was celebrating a birthday, was visibly inebriated — falling several times throughout the concert and forgetting the title to his most recent album. Nevertheless, the group did make the most of its ridiculously short set.
It was, however, an odd performance since the Counting Crows was unusually subdued. Opening with the melancholic Colorblind, the band established the pace for their concert, which found it shying away from many of its more rambunctious selections in favor of mellower material. Even the infectious strains of I Wish I Was a Girl were delivered at a deliberately ponderous amble.
Throughout the somber set, Duritz rummaged around inside his head, contemplating his hopes and his dreams with morose profundity. A haunting pairing of Oasis' Live Forever and the Counting Crows' own A Long December explored the fragility of life, while Anna Begins examined the singer's inability to commit to a relationship.
Throughout it all, Duritz frequently touched upon his need to continuously strive for change in an attempt to break out of his gray-shaded world. One would expect this type of show to take place in a more intimate venue — not within the cavernous confines of an outdoor amphitheater. Yet, the Counting Crows made it work as best as it could, though most of the subtle nuances of the band's musical arrangements were lost in the quagmire of the arena's acoustics.
The muddy sound problems also prevailed throughout Live's sixty-five minute set, though the band was determined to overcome the venue's inadequacies by delivering its bombastic clatter at full volume. Even perfect acoustics, however, would not have made much difference. One song after another found lead singer Ed Kowalczyk's screeching Axl Rose-possessed vocals drifting over a barrage of power chords. The result was an utterly insufferable and endlessly monochromatic performance.
New Orleans-based Galactic fared the worst of all. Its songs were an intriguing mix of funked-up jazz and blues, but the entirety of its 30-minute opening set poured through the venue's inferior sound system and melted into a giant ball of sonic sludge. Even a guest appearance by Adam Duritz was sucked into the indiscernible slop.
Sound problems like this are a horrible injustice to both the performers and their fans. One can only hope the World's management will see the light and severely remodel the place, but that hasn't ever even been proposed in the venue's decade-long existence. Each season, the theater's owners proudly proclaim that they have made modifications to correct these difficulties — hence, the introduction of the word new into the venue's name several years ago. However, even with increased revenue from skyrocketing ticket and concession prices, nothing truly ever seems to improve — and why should it? The owners know that there aren't any other alternatives in the Chicago market, and therefore they have no incentive to really try to improve conditions. Sure, it would be for the good of the music, but like most things in the business these days, it's all about the money. Music has nothing to do with it.
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