Just before 9 p.m. on a cool summer night, Charlotte’s expectant Counting Crows crowd was getting drenched, waiting under an open sky for the band to come on Tuesday at The Music Factory. The audience – primarily early- to mid-30s, here to hear songs reminding them of younger years – had the option to stay where they were and get wet, or push to the stage for a bit of cover.
So they pushed.
After the drops stopped falling, after the band arrived and security shuffled everyone back to their seats, there was seldom a moment in the 17-song set that elicited as much vigor or movement from the crowd. Perhaps they were simply drenched under the weight of the early rain, or perhaps they were utterly mesmerized by the spiky black dreads flying out from lead singer Adam Duritz’s head, but the overwhelming majority of the audience seemed, well, underwhelmed.
Give them credit for sticking around, though, after both the 20-minute storm and Duritz’s opening coy shrug, followed by a quick, “Well, sorry about the rain.” The seven-man band that found peak popularity in the 1990s had come to play, but their altered lyrics and instrumental riffs felt more self-indulgent than crowd-pleasing.
Duritz roamed the stage, his arm motions emphatic and his stumbling frequent, more than once sending the microphone stand wobbling with his movements.
He skipped some of his biggest, sure-to-be-well-received hits – 2002’s cover of the Joni Mitchell hit “Big Yellow Taxi” and 2004’s “Accidentally In Love,” among them – and changed others.
Few recorded hits remain unaltered when the Crows play them live, but after Duritz talked his way through the fast-paced “Mr. Jones” and added guitar riffs and flashing lights to the normally soulful “Round Here,” it was easy to question whether the band could live up to its previous fame.
But even if they weren’t there for the crowd, the band members were at least there for each other, playing and conversing with an impressive camaraderie that only comes from years – decades – on the road. Which they have.
A six-minute, high-energy rendition of “Hangin’ Around” brought it all back together. There was Duritz whipping that same hair, singing the familiar lyrics; guitarists sporting those old silver earrings and suit vests over T-shirts; a man in the third row filming with a dated pocket camcorder that seemed never, in 90 minutes, to stray from the stage. And at least in that moment, in that song, it could have been 1999 all over again – which, surely, was the goal.