“We’re just not going to be that band that plays all the stuff you know,” said Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, actually using a more colorful word to vent his frustration at fans who called out for hits during the band’s set at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Monday night.
The alt-rockers, who rose to popularity after their massively successful debut album “August and Everything After” landed in 1993, really didn’t get to a well-known hit (“Round Here”) until more than halfway through their 19-song SPAC performance.
Instead they mostly showcased lesser known-numbers like blues rocker “Sessions,” the twangy “Mercy” and “Le Ballet d’Or,” a song that originated in the band’s days of playing in San Francisco basements.
For longtime fans, that was to be expected. The Crows are known for altering their set lists every night on tour and for having an improvisational side, making subtle changes to songs on the fly. It’s a way for the 25-year-old band to keep things fresh onstage.
“Since we’re doing exactly what we want to do, we’re totally into it every night,” Duritz told an interviewer in July.
Doing things their own way they did, during an emotionally gripping show that demonstrated the Crows’ chops as a versatile and skilled live rock band.
They opened with “Scarecrow” from their latest album, 2014’s “Somewhere Under Wonderland.” It was a rocker, with a Tom Petty-esque riff and a theme of alienation that fit the persona of Duritz: a sometimes uncomfortable frontman who has talked publically about his struggles with depression and mental illness.
But there’s something about Duritz’s edge that also makes him quite captivating as a frontman. He’s sensitive for real, it’s no act, and that comes through on stage as an emotional resonance that people can relate to.
Dressed in torn jeans and a black Velvet Underground t-shirt, Duritz mimed pushing a gun away from his head on “Catapult,” dug his hands into his pockets during the ballad “Colorblind” and sat on the edge of the stage conducting the crowd in a singalong during “Omaha.”
Not everyone at SPAC who filled the amphitheater and lawn – a good crowd for a Monday night – had the patience for lesser known songs. “Finally,” a woman in the seats yelled as the Crows launched into the instantly recognizable “Round Here.”
A few songs later, after calling out the fans who only wanted hits, Duritz indulged them with the band’s biggest smash of all: “Mr. Jones,” the Bob Dylan-referencing tune with a Byrds-like lilt.
He followed with the moving “A Long December,” played at the piano, and the powerful newer tune “Palisades Park,” which came during an encore that also featured “Rain King” and “Holiday in Spain.”
After an enjoyable opening set by K Phillips and the Concho Pearls, a Nashville-by-way-of-Texas combo who paired driving ZZ Top blues-rock with twangy Americana, Rob Thomas gave the party-goers at SPAC some feel-good, pure pop enjoyment.
The Matchbox Twenty frontman-turned-solo artist – in fine form both vocally and as an athletic, high-energy performer – got the crowd moving on “Her Diamonds,” a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” “This Is How a Heart Breaks,” and on his smash Santana-collab “Smooth.”
He also performed “Sunday Morning New York Blue,” “Lonely No More,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “3 AM” (Matchbox Twenty), “Pieces” and “Heaven Help Me.”
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