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Counting Crows Surprise Students With a Free Concert on Lower Sproul Plaza

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Counting Crows could have played anywhere in the Bay Area. After all, their upcoming tour with Maroon 5 is headlining at massive venues across the country (think Shoreline Amphitheatre and Folsom Field). But this band of Bears fans insisted upon trying to get "that noon lunchtime gig" on Lower Sproul in lieu of a spot at Slim's in San Francisco.

To say that this ASUC SUPERB Spring Concert was highly anticipated would be an understatement. Even in its advertised confidentiality, the campus was abuzz over the speculation. Whispers and smiles dominated the Bear's Lair and passersby were in equal disbelief as the headliner's name began to leak across the campus. By the time the Crows went on at 5:45 p.m., Lower Sproul had become a sea of spectators, some catching a glimpse from the ledge of MLK or Cesar Chavez and others peering down from the balconies of Eshleman.

That Eshleman backdrop is familiar territory for the Crows. The "Berkeley born-and bred natives," half of whom attended Cal, frequented the coveted campus stage in the early '90s. They also played at Blake's on Telegraph and the Starry Plough on Shattuck, among other venues around the Bay Area, along the road to Oscar-winning success with "Accidentally in Love" in 2005. And when they took the stage Friday night, it was clear they were glad to be home.

The Crows shuffled the setlist to span their entire career, a pre-show process confirmed by guitarist David Immergluck to be "madness." Melodically upbeat opener "Have You Seen Me Lately?" from Recovering the Satellites (1996) set the introspective mood for the rest of the show, which displayed the array of emotions detailed in their diverse discography. Several tracks from their latest release, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, revealed a louder, grittier sound laden with dark, shadowy imagery. Among those played were "Insignificant" and the first single, "You Can't Count on Me." Duritz revealed in an interview before the show that he had been listening to a lot of mid-'70s punk music while writing the songs, which influenced the difference in sound. But the real distinction between past and present comes from the six-year hiatus between this album and Hard Candy, released in 2002. According to Duritz, artists are "always writing about where (they) are, but that changes all the time," along with the emotional tone of each album.

Duritz and his bandmates favored slower songs, including "Goodnight Elizabeth" from Recovering the Satellites and "All My Friends" from This Desert Life. But just when the throng of students began to lull, the familiar riff of "Mr. Jones" brought the crowd back to the pre-adolescent days of the Sony Discman.

The band wasted no time returning for an encore, either. In an act of school spirit, Duritz donned his blue-and-gold Cal sweatshirt to the delight of the crowd. And mentions of Berkeley in "Washington Square" and San Francisco in "If I Could Give All My Love" also drew prideful cheers. The show ended with a fierce rendition of "Hard Candy," which also culminated in a burst of energy from Duritz, his dread-head casting a tarantula silhouette against the sun setting behind Zellerbach.

It goes without saying that the Crows have come a long way from venue-hopping across the East Bay and watching the Talking Heads and Devo perform on Lower Sproul. But this free show was a gift to the students and the performers alike; for 90 minutes, the Crows nonchalantly sipped from blue SOLO cups and heard the Campanile carillons. Just your typical Friday night in Berkeley.

Fall accidentally in love with Stefanie at [email protected]

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