It seemed like a great idea, pairing up veteran college favorites/road warriors Counting Crows with new college favorite/road warrior John Mayer on a lengthy, co-headlining summer tour. With their sensitive, acoustic-flavored pop stylings, both artists have plenty of fans in common, and both are known for putting on dynamic performances. Why then, did their July 11 show at central Washington’s Gorge Amphitheater fall flat?
For starters, the Gorge is at least a two-hour drive for anyone who lives in a city, a sacrifice ordinarily outweighed by the venue’s exceptional setting along the Columbia River. But at $50 for lawn admission and $60 for reserved, plus $30 per car for overnight campers and $4 bottled water in the 95-degree heat, the “Was this worth it?” scale tipped pretty heavily in the direction of NO before the concert even began.
Couple that with the fact that Mayer's been on the road virtually non-stop for two years, touring behind the same album. I think a lot of people are getting tired of “Your Body is a Wonderland” by now. Hopefully, Mayer’s returning fans will catch some relief when his new album Heavier Things comes out September 9.
Though Counting Crows spent the last two summers touring with Live and opening for The Who, they have, in contrast to Mayer, taken a reasonable amount of time off the road. But one has to wonder—are the seven years since the last good Counting Crows album taking their toll on fans’ eagerness to come out in large numbers to see the band?
As the Counting Crows took the stage and the sun sank below hills of gold, I was hoping the band would blow the overhanging clouds of doubt away with a powerful, cathartic live show. Singer Adam Duritz and his seven-man band promptly began an acoustic set, deconstructing songs like “Have You Seen Me Lately?” and “Mr. Jones” by slowly meandering through them with disappointingly little trace of the original melody or arrangement. At least it offered plenty of opportunity for accordion solos.
Thankfully, the electricity flowed freely as the band plugged in for its 7th number, “Rain King,” which was wrapped around Duritz’s freestyle take on the Bruce Springsteen classic “Thunder Road.” Duritz has a gift for re-interpreting melody and continually infusing new emotion into his singing, but without equally energetic support from his band, the performance lacked intensity. The pacing of the set was poor throughout, as the rocking pop anthem “American Girls” was buried between sleepy renditions of “Anna Begins” and “Goodnight L.A.” By the time they wrapped up their 70-minute show with “Hanginaround” and “Hard Candy,” the band’s repeated appeals encouraging the crowd to clap along received a half-hearted response at best.
As some concertgoers stepped out during intermission, their seats were instantly filled by giddy girls pining for a closer look at John Mayer. Witnessing this, the reality of his expanding fame became clear to me. In the eyes of the public Mayer is no longer the sophisticated young singer-songwriter of his early rep, but now a bona fide pinup pop star. Perhaps this explains why he would tour yet again, playing only two new songs while there were at least twice as many new styles of Mayer T-shirts for girls. The immense collective shriek that greeted his arrival on stage may not have been on par with Beatlemania, but it was loud enough to drown out the opening chords of “My Stupid Mouth.” From there, his set was largely an audience sing-along as he trotted out six more songs from his hit album Room For Squares, including the ubiquitous “No Such Thing,” and “Your Body is a Wonderland.” As always, the songs were interlaced with plenty of improvised guitar as well as vocal additions including snippets of 1983 hits at the beginning of “83.” The new song, “Something’s Missing,” had a cool, laid-back feel, and the other new number, “Come Back to Bed,” hit a high point with a long, bluesy guitar solo. Appropriately, he turned a solo-acoustic cover of the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” into “Message to Your Daughters” before bringing back the band to close the show with an amped-up version of one of his best songs, “Why Georgia?”
Both Counting Crows and John Mayer offered plenty of enjoyable moments, but where were the fireworks these artists’ talents warrant? Too many duds and not enough explosive energy—perhaps somebody has been hangin’ around way too long.