Counting Crows back on stage
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Counting Crows' last studio CD was 2002's "Hard Candy." The band hasn't been on tour since early 2003 and has basically been on sabbatical ever since then.

And "Hard Candy," for that matter, wasn't a blockbuster hit. It peaked at No. 5 on the "Billboard" album chart two weeks after its release and its big single was a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," which reached No. 5 on "Billboard" magazine's Adult Contemporary chart.

Yet this summer the Counting Crows - who also released a greatest hits CD, "Films About Ghosts," in 2003 - return to the road, playing amphitheaters nationwide as the headliner on a bill that also includes a proven hit-making band in the Goo Goo Dolls.

The bands play Thursday at White River Amphitheatre in Auburn.

Needless to say, there aren't many rock acts that can stay out of the public eye for two-plus years, come off a CD that wasn't a huge hit and return as a legitimate headliner for venues that hold upwards of 20,000 fans.

Counting Crows guitarist Dan Vickrey is well aware of his group's good fortune and he appreciates the loyalty of the fans.

But he doesn't think the band's drawing power is just a matter of luck. In fact, he believes the group began setting itself up for this kind of career even as its first CD, the 1993 release "August and Everything After," and its multi-format hit single, "Mr. Jones," took off on radio.

"We made a very conscious choice on the first record when everything blew up and 'Mr. Jones' blew up and that record was blowing up on radio and television, to really stay out and play to people," Vickrey said. "That's the most important thing to do, really. ... If they get to see them three times and you give them an amazing show three times, I mean, I think that's something that sticks with people and they end up growing with you.

"I think that's what the best bands do."

Of course, the sheer quality of the songs has to contribute to the continuing appeal of the Counting Crows, which currently includes Vickrey, Adam Duritz (vocals), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), Dave Bryson (guitars), David Immergluck (guitars), Jim Bogios (who has replaced Ben Mize on drums) and Millard Powers (who has replaced Matt Malley on bass).

The Counting Crows' talent was apparent when the Bay Area band debuted in 1993 with "August and Everything After." The group's tuneful blend of rock, folk and pop, coupled with Duritz's vivid lyrics, connected in a big way with music fans, as that CD sold more than five million copies.

Sales have slipped since, but all four of the group's records have been well received by critics and have all contained songs that have become staples of Counting Crows' live sets.

That much is evident on "New Amsterdam - Live at Heineken Music Hall," a new concert CD that arrives in stores Tuesday.

The show was recorded in February 2003, near the end of the band's tour supporting "Hard Candy." Its 15 songs touch on every phase of the Counting Crows' career, but interestingly enough, the CD avoids some of the group's biggest hits.

The fact that "New Amsterdam" is still a highly engaging live set speaks to the depth of quality material in the Counting Crows' four-CD catalog.

That catalog will expand next year, as the group has started work on a new studio CD.

In May, the band went to New York and recorded nine tracks with producer Gil Norton. The band, Vickrey said, was in a rocking mode for these sessions.

"Every song is kind of guitar-oriented and pretty rocking," Vickrey said, comparing the new tracks to the rocking material on "Recovering the Satellites."

The band plans to return to the studio after the summer tour to record a second half of the new CD, which promises to feature quieter material.

"Adam's really great" at softer songs, Vickrey said. "... And the band plays that music so well. I'm happy that we're going to expose that side of us."

The Counting Crows perform Thursday at the White River Amphitheatre

Author: Alan Sculley

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