By Michael Russo
I know, I know, I’m a hockey writer, not a music writer (although I wish I could do both). On Wednesday, we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled program with the release of the 2009-10 NHL schedule and a Minnesota Wild-specific blog.
But, for all you Counting Crows fans out there in Minnesota, surrounding areas and especially the nation, the Counting Crows were in town over the weekend and put together a tremendous show at the Basilica Block Party, mixing old stuff (Mr. Jones and Anna Begins) with new stuff (You Can’t Count on Me and Come Around), interweaving some of their hits into an awesome encore rendition of Rain King and closing with a cover of This Land is Your Land (amazing harmony).
There’s a Counting Crows’ song called Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby. A number of lyrics in there have spoken directly to me for years, especially, “If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame.” I learned Saturday night that if “you’ve never stared off in the distance” from on stage at a Counting Crows show, “then your life is a shame.”
I got to live a once-in-a-lifetime experience Saturday night, but more on that later.
The Minneapolis gig was essentially the last concert of the Counting Crows’ previous tour that included a long run through Europe. Not taking a break, the band is currently in Seattle rehearsing with Augustana and Michael Franti & Spearhead for the trio’s upcoming summer tour, which begins Thursday in Redmond, Wash.
I talked to lead singer Adam Duritz extensively about this unique tour called “The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show.” If you’re a Counting Crows fanatic, it’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen (click here for tour dates).
I’ve gotten to know Adam the last three or four years because we have a mutual friend, Roxy Bernstein, one of the great play-by-play men out there. He used to do the Florida Marlins and now works Cal basketball games and NCAA football games for the nationally-syndicated Touchdown Radio with Gino Torretta.
Adam can’t be more excited about this tour. Starting with the raggedy, old carnival curtain being pulled up by the bands themselves every night, fans of the Counting Crows, Augustana and Michael Franti & Spearhead will see a 3-to-3 1/2-hour show every night with an intermission in between.
All three bands will be performing together, alone, with each other. They’ll be interchanging all night.
“People are going to be jumping on and off stage all night. We end all together and we encore all together,” Duritz said. “I wanted to put together a show that would probably introduce you to music — maybe a lot of people don’t know Augustana, maybe some of them don’t know Spearhead, although they’ve got a good jam band following — but I know all these bands are great and felt it would be great to put us all up there together and mixing it up.
“And then I give you a three-hour show instead of a 65-minute show.”
So, if you’re one of the fans who buy tickets to a Counting Crows concert and show up at 9 p.m. thinking you’re just skipping the opening acts, DON’T DO IT or you’ll miss half the show.
The Counting Crows and Augustana have toured together numerous times, and the idea of this show actually came about last summer when guitarist and band co-founder Dave Bryson and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham left for a few weeks because their wives were giving birth.
Augustana was the opening act, but Duritz didn’t want Counting Crows fans to feel like they were being ripped off by having less of a band. So he turned the weakness into a strength, and during those weeks performed with Augustana.
Duritz has been friends with Franti for a long time. They grew up in the Bay Area playing basketball together. In fact, Franti was a high school basketball star and played hoops at the University of San Francisco.
Recently, the three bands holed up for three days on the University of Northern Illinois campus to rehearse. During breaks, they’d run to the gym and play basketball.
“The first day, we’re all playing barefoot. It got so competitive, the next day, we all managed to go the Nike outlet for basketball shoes so we could run half court.”
Duritz, who’s gotten injured on stage many times (torn ACL’s and the like), broke one of his fingers on his left hand during those pickup games.
“We’re all good friends,” Duritz said. “It’s really hard to resist not being on stage all night long for these shows. I have to hold myself back because I’m having so much fun singing. One of our guitar players (Dave Immergluck) has managed to somehow get himself on for every single song in the show except for one.”
“We had to sit him down for a talk and say, ‘There’s no way you’re on stage for every song.’” Duritz said, laughing.
So what are Duritz’s expectations for this tour?
“I wanted to give the fans something different, special,” Duritz said. “I don’t usually do a lot of collaborations because I find them fake and boring, but these are real collaborations. We have no idea what we’re doing.”
“Sometimes [Augustana front man Dan Layus] and I are diving at each other with harmonies we’ve never done,” Duritz continued. “With me, crowds can’t sing along because I go all over the place. I have no concept of what the melodies are supposed to be. I’m just singing. So harmonies can be really difficult unless you’re a good singer and really listening.
“This is real music. It’s like jazz. It’s happening right there. It can be great or a train wreck. But if you’re going to watch a train wreck, this is what you want to see — people really making music. There’s nothing packaged about this. We’re working really hard and rehearsing and learning [each other's songs]. But there’s 18 people up there sometimes. So harmonies we put there can be outrageously glorious and at times horrifically [bad].
“The truth is we’ll get really good at things and they’ll all be incredible, but there will be times where we’ll try something new the next night and that might not be. Within a week, we could be playing a perfect, incredile show every night, or we could keep trying new stuff and risk the train wrecks.
“We’re trying to just give audiences what they deserve. There’s no money out there these days, so if you’re going to spend money to come to our concerts, I want to give you something really special. You may not think it’s what you wanted when you show up, but I think you’ll come away feeling like you got way more — if you’re there on time. Otherwise you might miss the first set, which is us probably. One of the first sets will be a shorter Counting Crows set.”
Adam’s had a ridiculously busy year. He’s producing a film with the Broken Lizard guys (Super Troopers, Beerfest), which includes Minneapolis’ Erik Stolhanske (buddies with Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen), called Freeloaders, which is a “fictional” account of life at Duritz’s home in L.A. when he was gone on the road. It takes the idea that Duritz had no idea what was going on behind his back at the house. The fictional character rock star is about to get hitched and tells his friends he’s selling the house, and they do everything in their power to sabotage the selling of the home.
Duritz left for the set Jan. 3. Between the movie and touring, he’s been to his New York City home 19 days since the start of the year. “But I found out after running a 50-man crew for 15 years, I’m actually kind of good at being a movie producer,” he quipped. ”It’s the same kind of thing.”
It’s always a blast chatting it up with Adam because he’s a sports nut (absolutely religious about Cal football and basketball), and is buddies with NHLer Mathieu Schneider and the guys who made the documentary, Ice Kings, about the Mount St. Charles hockey dynasty in Rhode Island.
In fact, truth be told, this column I wrote Dec. 26, 2007, on the Mount featuring Keith Carney, Brian Lawton and Garth Snow, the idea originated from Adam introducing me to one of the filmmakers in Atlantic City a few years ago.
Adam hopes to be back in Minneapolis in September, but only because he’s a Cal football fanatic. The Golden Bears play at the Gophers’ new outdoor stadium, and Adam should be on the sidelines.
“This will be Cal’s year,” Duritz says. “They have a Heisman Trophy candidate running back (Jahvid Best), have 11 starters back, but they were playing 20 deep, so they literally have everyone back. Barring any slip-ups, like in Minnesota, this could be our year, man.”
(It should be noted that the last time he told me that was in 2006, and Cal lost its opener against Tennessee. I’m just saying).
Anyways, I know this blog was long and not hockey related, but I figured I’d help get the word out to Counting Crows fans nationwide to show up early and enjoy the upcoming tour.
And back to my original story at the top. During the Counting Crows’ song Hanginaround the other night, Adam’s nephews, sister, some other fans and myself and a friend got to go on stage during the song.
I pretty much looked like a fool as I hid in the background of guitarist Dan Vickrey. I got out there and turned into a statue. I was just awe-struck as I stared at the sea of fans, watched Adam sing from a few feet away (I’ve been a fan for 18 years) and watched Vickrey and Bryson, whom I’ve also gotten to know, play.
It was an amazing experience. But as you can tell by this YouTube clip 37 seconds in, Adam certainly noticed the one idiot on stage who wasn’t dancing: “Is that the best you can do Russo?”
The funniest thing is I was so in awe, I didn’t hear him say it. Friends of mine after the show said they heard it, but I never did until now.
I went back stage again after the show and Duritz yelled at me that when on stage, “Move your butt, Russo!”
Next time. Hopefully.
And Wednesday, back to our regularly-scheduled program of hockey, hockey and hockey.