Imagine a terrible day: you’re sick. You’ve been fighting with one of your best friends all day. You’re late to an important appointment because traffic is insane, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Said lateness makes you miss a fantastic opportunity, so you’re even more upset than you already were. Oh, and it’s chilly outside, with the wind picking up. Your saving grace: you’re seeing two awesome bands that night. Do Counting Crows and The Wallflowers have the superpowers necessary to turn your whole day around, and end it on a bright note? I showed up last Thursday evening at America’s Cup Pavilion to find out.
That thing I was late to? My meeting my LiveNation contact so I could shoot the Wallflowers from the pit. Unfortunately, rock & roll waits for no one, so I not only missed that opportunity altogether, I missed the beginning of their set – something I pride myself on rarely, if ever, doing. I would ultimately make it to the pit safely in plenty of time for the Counting Crows, only to have some crazy camera malfunction, resulting in no usable photos of my own. See? Horrible day. Thankfully, my seats were next to fellow photog Daniel Guskoter (dgpics.com), who graciously offered to email me the shots I’ve used for this review – thanks, Daniel!
Before I even made it through the gate, I could hear Jakob Dylan’s sweet voice singing “Three Marlenas” from the street. As I settled safely in my seat, the band began their cover of “The Letter,” and then “I’ve Been Delivered.” During my senior year at Cal (2010), I had the opportunity to see Jakob’s dad perform at the Greek, and I honestly can’t say whether I think Jakob is sounding more and more like him over time, or if he always did and I didn’t notice until more recently. Either way, though, he does remind me a lot of his dad, and I mean that in all good ways possible. Though I haven’t owned a Wallflowers album since my senior year of high school (1997), which was Bringing Down the Horse, it didn’t stop me from enjoying their whole set. (And bonus: the nostalgia of the tunes I listened to all those years ago makes ’em all the sweeter now!) “6th Avenue Heartache” was next, and featured a sexy combination of organ and guitar, establishing quickly that the Wallflowers are capable of what only great musicians are: sounding better live than they do on a record.
After “Closer to You” came “Nothin’ But the Whole Wide World,” and eventually Jakob paused to check on the crowd, asking, “San Francisco, how are you? You all right?!” When they cheered back, he nodded. “You did come! You did show up!” A new song called “Love is a Country” was up next, followed by “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” – with which I disagree. (But it’s a great song, anyway…) I’ve never seen the Wallflowers live before, but I admit I expected Jakob to be a no-fuss, just-here-to-play-for-you kinda guy like Papa Dylan, so I was surprised when he stopped again to talk to the audience: “Hey you guys, how are you? Hey, guess what?!” A pause. “You’re not even gonna guess?!” Someone in the front mentioned something about it being a first or second concert, but I could only hear Mr. Dylan’s side of the conv, so I missed what was being said. He went on, though, to introduce the members of the band, including the birthday boy, drummer Jack Irons. On the count of three, everyone followed Jakob’s advice and chanted a big “happy birthday, Jack!” to which Jakob said, “that’s what you get when you’re on stage and it’s your birthday!”
The huge breakthrough hit “One Headlight” came next, after which Jakob admitted his chagrin at having forgotten to “wear flowers” in his hear, thanked the Counting Crows, and said they had time for one more. The last song, “The Difference,” wrapped up their set nicely. I’ll admit, I was a bit sad that they didn’t have more time to play for us, but since they’d played all of the songs of theirs I know and love best, I didn’t have much interest in complaining.
And then, before I knew it, it was time for the main event. Quickly, I admit a fact of which I’m a little ashamed: I don’t think I’ve ever owned a Counting Crows record. I’ve loved many of their songs over the years when I hear them on the radio, and I own quite a few bits and pieces of albums on my iPod/iPhone, but I’ve never bought one whole record. Suffice it then to say that a good half of the material was new to me this evening – and I was thrilled to hear it all. Just before the band took to the stage, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” began to play, and the house lights came on. The set got started with a bang with “Mr. Jones,” an old personal favorite of mine. “Untitled (Love Song)” was next, and the “throw your arms around my neck” line had me hooked right away. After “Hard Candy,” I had to give up my spot snapping soon-to-be-vanishing photographs in the pit and return to my seat.
After “Hospital” came the wonderful “Colorblind” (which turned out to be one of my favorite songs all night, though it was new to me), “Mercy,” and “Omaha” before Adam Duritz told the crowd that they had a few more acoustic songs for us. He also mentioned that they’d started “like thirty years ago,” which I never get tired of hearing: new bands are exciting, but those who’ve stood the test of time are a true testament to both their talent and the love of their fans. I’m always impressed by that kind of staying power! “When I Dream of Michaelangelo” came next, followed by “Friends of the Devil” and “Catapult,” and then, a rare treat. They “don’t play it very often,” Adam explained, adding that they’d “left it off the record.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one happy for a semi-exclusive listening party for a song called “Sessions,” and then with an awesome guitar intro, they got into the crowd-pleasing “Round Here.” They began “Le Ballet d’Or” with a confession from Adam, saying he “wrote this song in a basement,” and adding something about how he “couldn’t finish it.” Up next was a song “about falling in love and falling apart:” “Miami.”
When Adam sat at the piano for “A Long December,” I recognized it immediately. It’s been arguably my favorite Crows song since it came out back in 1996, and it’s one of those that I can’t imagine I’ll ever tire of hearing. Something about the instruments made me feel like I was somewhere in Italy, and I was briefly transported to a happy place. What’s better than that? The band covered “Return of the Grievous Angel” next, followed by their version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which I loved. After “Rain King” came “All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead)” and “Hanginaround.” Finally, a pause between songs made me realize one of the things that’s so great about the Crows: this show was almost completely no-frills. There was a fantastic light set illuminated (sorry, yes, that pun was intended) every song, and the music was perfect, but otherwise, there were no showy costumes, no fancy pyro, nothing at all present to dazzle. It was absolutely all music-driven, simple, and utterly wonderful. I really have to tip my hat to a band that focuses just on the music and quietly performs it for a happy crowd that eats it up.
Sadly, the night was beginning to wrap up when Mr. Duritz said they “kinda gotta go” and reminded us that the location demanded a “curfew in a few minutes.” He showed his humanity a moment later when, after promising one more song, he added, “fuck, I’m tired.” Rightly, so, though, as he’d been singing and playing his ass off all night (and all tour) long. He paused long enough to emphatically state that the United States is a “country of participation,” and that each one of us “have a voice,” going on to say that you can make “everything you want to make come true,” that it “does matter, contribution to everything matters, especially your vote.” He explained that there are “people in your town, every town, doing things to help others,” and mentioned Project Open Hand, who works to provide “healthy, nourishing meals” to people living with HIV and AIDS. He stressed that “you don’t have to do anything,” but also encouraged everyone to “grab a pamphlet. See if you can’t help, or get help if you need it. That’s all I got.” Honestly, it was all I wanted: I love that they care, and mention things like this, but aren’t pushing, or walking public service announcements. Things matter, and I respect a band using their influence for good. As promised, the band had one last song for us, which Adam called “our lullaby,” and was “Holiday in Spain.” When it concluded, he humbly thanked the crowd, introduced his “friends,” the band members, mentioned remaining dates in Vegas & LA, and that they’d be back in the fall. Happily, there’s also a new record on the horizon for us to look forward to! After a thank you to the Wallflowers, the band left the stage to the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin.'”
Sadly, the night couldn’t go on forever. But it did, as I’d hoped, turn around an utterly wretched day. (How could a night of simple, great live music not?) It was everything I wanted it to be and more, and now I have a new record (and several older ones) to discover, and to look forward to. Thanks, Crows & Wallflowers, for being the remedy to a tough day, and for a great night on the Bay!