Something Old, Something New
Counting Crows - O.A.R.
UIC Pavilion - Chicago
October 21, 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2002, Volume 9, #12
Written by T.J. Simon
In 1993 and 1994, the guys in Counting Crows were on top of the world. The album August and Everything After was a critical and commercial smash, and you couldnít hit a preset on your car radio without hearing Adam Duritzís wailing voice belting out any number of chart-topping hits. Nine years and three studio albums later, the critical praise remains, but the record sales and radio exposure have cooled significantly. As a result, Counting Crows exists in a respectable place as pop music journeymen: certainly not has-beens, but without the massive following that existed nearly a decade ago.
This brings us to O.A.R. ("Of A Revolution"), a band that, by all accounts, is on the verge of being "The Next Big Thing" ó the Counting Crows of 2003, if you will. Much like its predecessors, the five-member ensemble has developed a loyal following on college campuses across North America with its brand of jammy pop and upbeat white-boy reggae. These college fans have been graduating and indoctrinating their friends into the fold, causing exponential leaps in CD sales and a scarcity of concert tickets wherever this group of fresh faced twenty-somethings stops on its perpetual, tireless tour.
On October 21, O.A.R. and Counting Crows co-headlined a concert at the UIC Pavilion on the urban campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the groups played to an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 7,000 students and post-graduates as well as a handful of fogies well into their thirties. O.A.R. was the first of the headliners to take the stage, and the audience went absolutely nuts. The bandís performance captured all the best magic from its studio album Risen and its recent concert recording Any Time Now, with slightly hoarse lead singer and guitarist Marc Roberge entrancing the crowd from the first chords of the show-opener Night Shift. Before many songs, the group dabbled in complex, fake-out arrangements before launching into familiar chords of fan favorites including an extended version of Hey Girl.
When O.A.R. entered the jam territory, it was fresh, funky, and enjoyable rather than long and self-indulgent. Thousands within the crowd danced up a storm and sang along during a twelve-minute version of That Was a Crazy Game of Poker, which sweetly segued into Bob Marleyís No Woman, No Cry. The bandís lyrical depth was also on full display during a moving rendition of Black Rock sung over a saxophone bed supplied by Jerry DePizzo. Band members genuinely seemed to be having a good time, and between songs of love and colorblindness, they went out of their way to let the audience know that they appreciated the support. The myriad of comparisons to the Dave Matthews Band really doesnít do justice to the unique blend of party and substance that O.A.R. brings to the table at its concerts. The generous sixty-minute set also included enough new material to leave the audience interested in the extremely bright future that lies ahead for O.A.R.
In concert, Counting Crows is a band that knows where its bread is buttered. The bandís set list was a mix between the greatest hits you know by heart and carefully selected tracks from its new release Hard Candy. The 38-year-old Adam Duritz was a bundle of energy on stage, clad in comfy Gapwear with his Medusa moptop flopping around while his familiar voice warbled through great versions of Mr. Jones and Rain King. He also took control of the piano for a stripped down adaptation of A Long December, accompanied by Charles Gillingham on accordion. And, the crowd reacted warmly to the bandís cover of Joni Mitchellís Big Yellow Taxi ("They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."). Duritz is a natural storyteller with a dramatic flair. His emotive histrionics worked well during the concertís highlight A Murder of One but came off corny on an overlong rendition of Round Here.
Familiarity breeds likeability in pop music, and the crowd seemed a bit less interested as the Crows featured numbers from the new CD Hard Candy. The current single American Girls sounded terrific in concert, and many folks did sing along. But other tracks from the new release ó most notably Miami and Holiday in Spain ó could have used some further road testing. The show concluded on a high note with Duritz inviting members of O.A.R. and the show opener The Graham Colton Group for an incredible microphone-passing, jam version of Hanginí Around. Counting Crows may be a journeyman band, but what a great trek itís been.
The eveningís warm up act The Graham Colton Group performed songs from its self-titled independent release. The Dallas bandís music was radio friendly, roots-oriented pop that at times recalled the sound of The Wallflowers or Pete Yorn. For a performer barely old enough to enjoy his first legal beer, Colton had a confident and talented stage presence as he tore through thirty minutes of music including his own likable numbers Jessica and Cigarette. Being an unknown opening act is a thankless task, and Colton worked hard to drown out the crowd conversation, successfully winning over a few new fans in the process.
Hard Candy is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Any Time Now is also available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 2002 The Music Box