Cracker was fabulous. That's the short version.
The Omaha Civic Auditorium is a big three-tiered sports arena, but luckily they had the stage pushed halfway up so the effect wasn't too overwhelmingly big. Strange, it was a very young crowd (read: NO lines for beer). Being General Admission as it was, we waited in line like cattle, then there was a mad dash for the doors when they were opened. Security enforced "no running!" and if that wasn't enough like being in junior high, we then were required to sit on the floor, all of us, until the show started. So it was like a big school assembly in the gym, watching Woody and the Crows' people setting up the stage and tuning. Kind of surreal.
Sadly enough, there will be no photos of this show. I managed to get a great shot of Johnny in his PJs sitting on an amp during Euro Trash Girl, and then, just as this brilliant orange light focused on Kenny, wearing this great rust-colored jacket and with the flames on the accordian blazing like hellfire, the "low battery" light on my camera went on and all was lost. I took one lousy shot of Adam an hour or so later after the battery had "rested", then the camera gave up for good.
Cracker went about a solid hour, I'd say. Set list: Been Around the World, Seven Days, Euro Trash Girl, Lonesome Johnny Blues, Teen Angst, 100 FPM, Matchstick Men, Get Off This, Be My Love, Shake Some Action, Low. (I know they MUST have played something after Low, but my mind, like my sheet of paper, were mysteriously left blank by nasty overpriced Bud Light.) No encore. No "cross-pollenation" between Cracker and the CC, either. Had been looking forward to seeing David and Adam sing on each other's songs, but alas... that will come later in the tour, possibly, after both bands get more in the groove w/each other.
Everyone in the band seemed to be on the mark, David was pretty straightforward (not so much crowd interaction/co-heckling, just music). The crowd, while mostly there to see the Crows, was at least very attentive. Cracker certainly held their attention, even though the mass dancing didn't kick in fully till the Crows' set. The energy started to pick up during Get Off This, held through Be My Love, and surprisingly, jumped again during Shake Some Action (since it's on a soundtrack along with a CC song, it makes sense their fans would know it). And of course Low had the crowd alive.
I had to get away from the front, though, after Cracker, because the pit became just too hot and pressurized by all the pushing.
Seeing the CC set was such an amazing treat--it's been 2 or 3 years since I've seen them and I'd forgotten how adorable Adam Duritz is, with all that enthusiasm and gesturing. It made me revisit earlier thoughts on performance authenticity--how can actors in a play, or singers on a stage, go through the same motions time and again and dredge up real emotion to give to the crowd? Well, Adam reminded me, as Cracker always does, too, that you CAN go through the same motions and still be real every time--different venue, different crowd, different vibe. They draw on some artistic well and they DO make it real every time. Adam has so many "stock" gesticulations (1 for sorrow, 2 for joy, 3 for girls..., etc.) but his expressions and singing always reflect real emotion. In a different style, Cracker's the same way. It was great seeing Brandy's personality emerge more and more into her stage presence, as well.
Cracker watched some of the CC set from the sidelines. Although I don't think they were present for the moment when Adam gave his little Cracker speech that had me smiling and screaming. He thanked Cracker and especially David, gave them credit for giving the Crows their start, talked about their talent and support, and mentioned David's production of This Desert Life--to a very responsive crowd. It was so sweet. Hopefully that will register in the minds of the CC fans on this tour.
And another highlight--seeing all these big lanky corn-fed, crew-cutted farmboys singing proudly, "OMAHA, SOMEWHERE IN MIDDLE AMERICA. GO RIGHT TO THE HEART OF MATTERS, IT'S THE HEART THAT MATTERS MORE!..." That was the last song the CC did before their encore. Absolutely sweet.
Okay, that's long enough. Catch these shows if you can!
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By MATTHEW DIETRICH
An hour into Counting Crows' show Monday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, singer and front man Adam Duritz paused between songs to address the crowd and his band mates.
"We certainly do have a lot of great songs," Duritz said with a self-amused grin.
No one in the crowd, which appeared to number about 3,600, would disagree.
The band's 90-minute show was rich in dynamics and musical textures as the group played its many radio hits alongside lesser-known album tracks that were equally compelling.
Duritz, with his dreadlocks and an earnest delivery that was taken as pretentious during the band's initial breakthrough days in 1993 and 1994, often was the target of mean-spirited criticism for his pained onstage demeanor back then. But Monday's concert showed Duritz to be a fun and amicable performer who has embraced his band's popularity and loves his music.
Possibly the most striking aspect of Monday's show was the diversity of Counting Crows' music.
The band charged out of the gate with "St. Robinson and his Cadillac Dream," a chunk of psychedelia from Counting Crows' latest album, "This Desert Life," that alternately swirls and chugs. Keyboardist Charlie Gillingham's rich Hammond organ screamed the band's arrival onstage, and Duritz flexed his voice to show off a range surprising to those who have only heard the band's hits on the radio.
From there, the band veered into the up-tempo rock of "Mr. Jones," the song that introduced Counting Crows to the world upon its release in fall 1994. Then it was on to the gently rambling, piano-driven "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby." That song was one of many to showcase Duritz's knack for wrapping a song around a catchy chorus.
The six-member band, augmented by guitarist David Immergluck, comes equipped with many useful tools. Gillingham's tasteful piano and organ parts add color to the songs, and Gillingham's occasional moves to accordion added another hue to the palette.
Guitarists David Bryson, Dan Vickrey and Immergluck switched often from acoustic to slide to Leslie-drenched electric guitars for constantly varied sound.
Of course, all these would mean nothing were it not for the band's well-constructed songs, most of which are written by Duritz.
The band turned its hit "Rain King" (better known to casual radio listeners for its memorable chorus: " I belong in the service of the queen") into a powerful, 10-minute marathon.
Some of the evening's best moments came on songs from "This Desert Life." "I Wish I Was a Girl" and "Four Days" were dreamy and gliding, while an encore of "Hanginaround" had a hip-hop feel aided by the booming acoustics of the convention center. The sound mix was one of the best in recent memory.
Duritz sat at the piano to close the show with a powerful version of "Long December" that showed Counting Crows' ability to keep their best-known tunes fresh to themselves and live audiences.
Longtime underground rock favorite Cracker opened the show with a set drawn largely from its newly released album of hits and rarities, "Garage d'Or."
Led by former Camper Van Beethoven member David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman, Cracker is known for the satiric tone of many of its songs and an ever-present sense of humor that can be subtle or biting (and at times both).
Cracker's 1992 debut album came out at a time when rock music was entering a phase in which bands were judged by their angst, and misery would become fashionable. That album, "Cracker Brand," began with the song "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," which mocked the very culture in which the band would thrive. In 1993, Lowery again sneered at the world of alternative rock with the bubbling radio hit "Get Off This."
Musically, Lowery and Hickman are adept at working in numerous styles. The surreal waltz "Dr. Bernice" was a highlight of the set, as was the honky-tonk country of "Lonesome Johnny Blues." (The latter was sung by a pajama-clad Hickman.)
Lowery co-produced Counting Crows' "This Desert Life," and the two bands have a long history together. When Counting Crows were just an up-and-coming act six years ago, they toured with Cracker as an opening act.
Cracker's irreverence and Counting Crows' thoughtful introspection make a nice package regardless of who plays first.
Matthew Dietrich can be reached at 788-1509 or email@example.com.
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