Torture, it appears, is digestible so long as it has a beat. For better or worse, Counting Crows leader Adam Duritz has created a marketable identity that fits snugly between the Southern guilelessness of the Band’s Levon Helm and the vengeful tension of Jim Morrison, an embraceable ideal for an industry that regularly looks to ’60s icons for points of reference that can be updated.
Duritz’s role has become more symbol than function: This is the face of “new music” for people who don’t like modern music, the 25-to-40 crowd that would rather worship the best of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, the Band and, quite possibly, Dire Straits. Duritz exudes a degree of charm, no doubt, but his stream of problems is so steady that eventually you pray for a lyrical dam. There’s no danger, no edginess here; the reliance on mid-tempo and dropping out instruments to rest emotion against the barest of backdrop is used over and over to embellish nothing but self-pitying artifice.
Yet on records it works — one song per disc, at least, and Tuesday night in the encores. On the San Francisco band’s 1993 debut, “August and Everything After,” and Tuesday as well, ” ‘Round Here” was that distinguishing track. On the current “Recovering the Satellites,” it’s “The Long December.” Both provide distinct realities that don’t force listeners to connect with Duritz’s logic of passion, and the concreteness of the pain dissolves into a wordless sing-along. Sha-la-la means we can work this out. In harmony.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with the Crows’ presentation, despite the absence of any sense of a “band” rather than a leader and his backing musicians. The focus is 100% on Duritz and no one else in the band seems even vaguely interested in taking away any of that spotlight (kinda like 10,000 Maniacs). They’re musicians doing their jobs, sort of what those Blowfish guys want us to believe. Yet down the road, they’ll be playing record number whatever and reaching back for a few old hits and at this pace, those hits will be all that will distinguish them from a pack of relatively indistinguishable acts that straddle the mainstream and alternative rock with a guitar, historical footing and hype.