Counting Crows Swoop Down On Berkeley's Greek Theatre

Photo: As the crow flies ... Berkeley-bred band the Counting Crows performed with Augustana last Sunday. Michael Franti was scheduled to play but was unable to due to a health issue.
Lara Brucker/Staff
As the crow flies ... Berkeley-bred band the Counting Crows performed with Augustana last Sunday. Michael Franti was scheduled to play but was unable to due to a health issue.

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Counting Crows and Augustana at the Greek Theatre
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Correction Appended

Nearly two decades ago, two men, Adam Duritz and Dave Bryson, came together to form an acoustic duo, gradually picking up more members and eventually receiving national attention. Now, after having crisscrossed America's highways many times over, last Sunday Counting Crows finally returned to the place where they were born-Berkeley, California-to share the stage with San Diego-based Augustana.

Although the concert, dubbed "Traveling Circus and Medicine Show," was originally intended to feature three acts-Counting Crows, Michael Franti and Augustana-Franti was sadly forced to bow out of the show due to a last-minute health emergency. While the loss was no doubt felt, the two remaining bands were more than able to carry on the show.

Obvious themes of homecoming and patriotism laced themselves throughout the two hours at the Greek, but another one of brotherhood was unstated but easily grasped. There was visible chemistry between Duritz and Augustana lead singer Dan Layus, whose respective groups gave a dual opening act singing to Counting Crow's cover of Van Morrison's "Caravan." The two frontmen took center stage as not just musical partners but friends, and their respective groups alternated in performing throughout the concert.

Headliner Counting Crows gave a strong show on their on as well, and true to their reputation, they performed with a heightened sense of passion that, though hinted at, couldn't fully be captured in a recording studio. Their high-energy display particularly augmented hopeful, lively pieces like "Come Around."

Duritz, easily ringleader of the circus show, worked the stage to its full capacity, jumping on the box steps, running to and fro, even rolling around on stage in a frantic burst of energy. At one point in "Hanging Tree," Duritz laid down, back to the audience, leaning his head against his arms.

At the same time, the band knew when to take things down a notch, as they did in "A Long December" as well as "Raining in Baltimore." Duritz's husky crooning of "And it's one more day up in the canyon / And it's one more night in Hollywood" harmonized with low-key guitar and damped percussion to enhance the song's brooding, melancholy lyrics.

Counting Crows were also able to live up to their name of altering recorded tracks for live shows. Not only did the group play the rarely-heard-live song "Carriage," which Duritz claimed, was "the saddest song I've ever written," but the piece also featured an unexpected guest from the San Francisco symphony, Chris Bogios, drummer Jim Bogios' father.

Augustana, although professing to be "students" of big brother Counting Crows, gave a fine performance all the same. Layus' clear, soulful voice coupled with the band's simple but alluring instrumentals proved to be the group's greatest asset. The group's strikingly memorable lyrics, which, though plain, invariably touch on a deeper level of meaning, won them plenty of admiration as well.

What distinguished Augustana's performance was their unexpected strength and power. Whether they took their cues from Counting Crow's flamboyant energy or intended it from the beginning, Augustana's vocals and instrumentals resonated much more strongly at the Greek, especially with songs such as "Sweet and Low," "Fire" and Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You."

Conversely, this effect also turned against them when they performed their stunning single "Boston" from All the Stars and Boulevards. In this case, powering through what should have been soft piano chords only served to detract from the bittersweet lyrics and sobering emotion of the song. Crashing cymbals, which were barely if at all used in the soundtrack version, jarred through the sound system to grate irritatingly on both the ears and nerves, and Layus' voice came out too abrasively for all the brokenness the song supposedly conveys.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it was job well done for both of the "rebel rock" bands, one newer and one older, who had proven themselves in different ways: Augustana, that they have a promising future ahead of them, and the Counting Crows, that their career is far from over.

Correction: Saturday, August 1, 2009
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Augustana's song "Boston" is from the album "Stars and Boulevards." In fact, it is from the album "All the Stars and Boulevards."

An earlier version of this article may have implied that the Counting Crows wrote the song "Caravan." They cover the song, which was originally written by Van Morrison.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Count up all of your Crows with Jane at [email protected]

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