By MIKE CHAIKEN
Counting Crows and Rob Thomas may be two peas in a pod—buddies on tour together who hit the alternative music scene of the 1990s at the same time—but their audiences definitely are of two different minds.
At the Mohegan Sun Arena on Aug. 6, the differences between Counting Crows’ and Rob Thomas’s audiences were clear about three songs into the Crows’ set.
During Thomas’s set, the singer for Matchbox 20—temporarily solo—was greeted by a sea of cellphones trying to capture his photograph or a video of a favorite song. And most of those cellphones were held by women—primarily falling between their 30s and 50s (and a few 60 year olds for good measure). These women hooted and hollered as Thomas—wearing a tight t-shirt and slacks—worked the stage.
As Counting Crows took the stage, everyone it seemed had pocketed their cellphones. Even more noticeably, some of the seats around me that had been occupied by women had been vacated. The amount of testosterone in the room had multiplied.
In the case of the men, by the way, for both Counting Crows and Rob Thomas they all took the too cool for school approach, listening intently, engaging in a little head bop, for both acts.
Probably this gender diversion is due to where the two acts themselves diverged following their initial splashes onto the music scene. Both had hit singles and wore their alternative rock origins proud. But whereas Thomas—in Matchbox 20 and solo—grew more pop over time, Counting Crows diverted themselves into more of a jam band in concert—letting their initial hits take on a new life beyond the recordings. The band also put the focus on songwriting rather than moving product.
Over time, Counting Crows have proven in a live setting to be masters of dynamics and restraints. Although they stretch a song out, they rarely indulged in random noodling. There were no long drawn out guitar solos, spacy moments, or drum solos—a la the Grateful Dead. Instead, they weaved a fabric of melody, chords, and rhythms where each instrument took time to fill the empty spaces. And Counting Crows were able to stir the heart as their musical intensity grew or subsided.
And the reworking of their songs was effective. I especially liked the way they approached two of their deeper cuts— “Anna Begins” and “Good Night Elisabeth.” As the band slowed down the songs, they built up the tension. The change in tempo also gave singer Adam Durwitz to better convey the sadness in both numbers.
By the way, Durwitz’s musical storytelling ability was fantastic. His vocal approached helped better convey the storytelling of the songs. It was like watching a great Shakespeare performance where the actors’ performances helped you better understand the tale told by the Bard.
Thomas may have arisen in the alternative rock universe, but he clearly has grown as more of a crooner. The switchover probably occurred when he took on the vocals for “Smooth” by Santana. All of a sudden, he demonstrated his seductive talents as a pop vocalist and not just as a rocker. The fact that the crowd went crazy during “Smooth” is evidence enough that’s where many of the audience first learned about him. And his solo hits clearly build on that template—working in a little soul and a little Latin into his pop sounds.
However, one of the best moments in the evening was when he grabbed Matchbox 20’s first hit. “3 A.M.” He rearranged it, slowing it down. Just as Counting Crows did later, Thomas’s performance helped the audience better understand the story contained within.
Overall, however, Counting Crows and Rob Thomas was a great combo of acts. I give the Aug. 6 concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena four out of four stars.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.