California's ever-square Counting Crows proudly begs, borrows and steals from its heroes, even as its telltale influences back it into a stylistic corner. The band's been crippled creatively by cribbing from greater artists like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Band and Bruce Springsteen, and it hobbles along on secondhand classic rock crutches.
If you're going to borrow, there's nothing wrong with borrowing from the best. But Counting Crows brought so little to the formula Monday night at the UIC Pavilion that what could have been a distillation of those legendary live performers instead sounded as dull as a thrift store record player stylus.
Bandleader and chief songwriter Adam Duritz takes his role as rock savior seriously. He also tends to confuse caterwauling with conviction. But most damning of all, whimsical, narrative-driven songs such as "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" and "Rain King," full of details denoting specific times, names and places, nonetheless came across without a hint of drama.
As much as Duritz contorted himself around his microphone stand, dripping angst and pathos along with rivers of sweat, nothing seemed emotionally at stake. Too many songs were simply about being or becoming famous, certainly another throwback to the narcissistic '70s and a stodgy singer/songwriter trait that should have stayed there. "Holiday in Spain" in particular was stuffed with enough clichis, clunkers and banalities to fill a Lenny Kravitz album.
The band's main selling point remained its dogged devotion to a time when musicians played instruments, and songs stretched and contracted as each night dictated, like living, breathing things.
The tactile plink of piano and the warm rumble of organ was refreshingly real, a welcome respite from trend surfing radio magnets, however staid. The way David Immergluck's 12-string chimed in around a chorus of backing vocals enhanced "Hard Candy," while the "la las" and "na nahs" of "Mr. Jones" and "A Long December," respectively, were heavenly, even as the band exploited the crowd-pleasing arena rock sing-along aspect of the songs.
What was missing was a sense of fun to temper Duritz's one-note malaise. His bored whine was broken up only with mumbled apologies and the occasional tossed microphone stand, dragging the show down, and he often appeared relieved and robotically inclined to turn the mic out to the audience, letting them lend some oomph to the band's frequently chorus-free material.
Duritz is enough of a showman to know when to turn the charm back on with the occasional kick or shake of his dreadlocks, but more damaging he often seems disinterested in his own songs. It was like watching someone recount a colorful anecdote for the 100th time. The listener inevitably enjoys the tale, but the teller's heart just isn't in it.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times