Sometimes bands get back together or stay around too long then perform with a sense of hokey bravado. The ’90s bands that have been coming to Reno lately have been honest and downright relevant.
Live and Counting Crows both basked in all the good the ’90s indie rock had to offer. Their sounds cling to the past while aging astonishingly well.
Live opened the night with a headliner-worthy 13 songs. The four recently united core members were joined by an extra drummer and guitarist. Both drummers took turns taking bold fills because the other was always there to fill in the gaps.
“That’s two drummers for the price of one, Reno,” Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk said in the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino on Monday, July 2. “You can’t do better than that in a casino.”
Live started its set with “All Over You,” then its newest single, “Love Lounge.” Kowalczyk paced the stage in black boots and stood behind each band member to highlight them and to give the spotlight guy a break.
“The Dolphin’s Cry” showed-off Kowalczyk’s range, growl and longer sustain. He pulled it off with a smile on his face.
They pounding through fan favorites without too much chatter. Kowalczyk only took breaks to wipe the sweat off his shaved head. Something I’m all too familiar with.
Last time Kowalczyk performed here he was solo at the Silver Legacy.
“It’s great to be back in Reno,” he said. “But it’s better because I’m here with my brothers.”
He connected with the middle-aged audience with references to cell phones so big they needed a battery-pack. He went on to give a description of his home in York, Pennsylvania.
“I grew up around working men at Caterpillar and Harley Davidson factories,” Kowalczyk said.
He dedicated “Pillar of Davidson” to the working men. They played “I Alone” and Kowalczyk got creative with the vocal melodies, as a man who’s sung a song millions of times must do. During the hits he took his time connecting with fans across the biggest indoor stage in the world.
“Next time you put a York Peppermint Patty in your face at 7-Eleven, you think of us,” Kowalczyk said.
They played “Lakini’s Juice,” their edgiest song. It starts heavy, then interludes to beautifully ethereal Live-ness (where the second drummer slickly picked up a shaker), then back to more mosh-worthy verses. It opens up to their boldest and most powerful chorus.
After running around like a nut, Kowalczyk grabbed guitarist Chad Taylor’s cord and whipped it around during a solo. He pulled on it like a street-performing mime.
I thought their set was over, but they did a rare opener move and encored. Kowalczyk came back out alone with an acoustic guitar. He played “Heaven” and said it was written about his firstborn daughter.
“She’s 16 years old now,” Kowalczyk said. “Between the four of us, we have 14 children.”
They finished with their touching radio-hit ballad, “Lighting Crashes.”
“Let’s end with a big fat juicy prayer and meditation of happiness and prosperity for you Reno,” Kowalczyk said.
Counting Crows play number of hits
Counting Crows had the crowd dancing quickly with “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” and “Catapult.”
Frontman Adam Duritz then sat at the edge of the stage and chatted with the audience about his childhood, previous hometowns and the process of making “Omaha.” He wanted the song to represent the America that wasn’t big cities such as Chicago or Boston.
“We didn’t know what to do with the song,” Duritz said. “I wasn’t even singing on the song, only playing harmonica. If you get in the right key, all you have to do is breath in and out. You can only mess up on two notes, but don’t get me wrong … you’ll find those notes.”
Duritz said he wanted “Omaha” to tell the stories of “somewhere in middle America” and breathe in and out like the harmonica. Charlie Gillingham on accordion helped with this rise and fall.
Counting Crows is a band of multi-instrumentalists juggling artillery. The accordion and mandolin add delicious flavor. Dan Vickrey grinds electric guitar solos. David Immerglück looks unassuming, like a tire shop employee, but he’s not only extremely talented but also the band’s hype man. He prompted the audience to claps and sing along between singing harmonies and playing mandolin and guitar licks.
Every member of the seven-piece band has a microphone. During some songs, they all sing at once.
They have much more country twang than their radio singles make you believe. Duritz wore a tattered Iron Fist shirt, his dreads perched on top of his dead and dipped in front of his thick glasses. He does a lot of spoken word poetry type verses between buttery choruses.
He headed to the piano for “A Long December” and sounded better than the recorded version. They played my favorite song, “Colorblind,” while I was dropping my gear off at the car. I’m sure it was amazing.
Mr. Jones didn’t show up, they weren’t accidentally in love, but they did play “Hangin’ Around” and “Round Here.” When most of your catalog are hits or connect viscerally with listeners, the game is which fabulous songs do you not play?
Both Counting Crows and Live put together impressive sets and treated the audience while toasting to nostalgia and better times.
— Tony Contini