Counting Crows may not have released an album since 2014’s “Somewhere Under Wonderland,” but the band hasn’t exactly been dormant.
This year finds the Bay Area band hitting the road with their old friends in Live for the 25 Years and Counting Tour, which commemorates a quarter century since the Crows released its 1993 debut, “August and Everything After.”
The decision to go on tour with Ed Kowalczyk and the guys in the band Live was a no-brainer for Counting Crows vocalist Adam Duritz, whose relationship with his band’s special guests goes about as far back.
“Ed and I were drinking buddies in L.A. I’d see him when I first moved to L.A. and those guys were always around, so I would hang out back then,” Duritz said in a recent phone interview. “And we’ve done several tours together, as well. My first memory of (Ed) was a year or two before our first album came out and their first album came out. They had this video where he’s on the beach and he’s just in jeans, barefoot with no shirt. He’s singing this song on the beach, and while I can’t remember what song that was, it’s my first memory of him. I’ve known him that long.”
With seven studio albums from which to choose, the Counting Crows canon runs pretty deep. And not unlike their Northern California brethren The Grateful Dead, the Crows have not only encouraged fans to record and distribute bootlegs of their high energy shows, but they’re equally capricious when it comes to deciding the set lists from one show to the next.
Ask Duritz what fans can expect and he’s honestly unsure in terms of what songs are going to be played any given night, including Tuesday (9/18) when the band hits the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. The band previously headlined RAGBRAI’s outdoor 40th birthday bash in downtown Cedar Rapids in July 2012.
“I never know. We change the set every night, and the songs change every time we play them. We don’t plan much more than a few hours ahead. It’s a mixed set list (chosen) every night around dinnertime,” he said.
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“What you can be certain of, I guess, is that we’ll be completely passionate about what we’re doing because whatever we’re playing that night is exactly what we want to play that night, or we wouldn’t be playing it.”
The consummate music fan, Duritz has indulged himself well beyond serving as Counting Crows’ singer. He not only founded two separate record labels (E Pluribus Unum and Tyrannosaurus Records), but actively signed acts. This passion isn’t surprising given that the Baltimore native grew up in Oakland and was more caught up with the writing process over singing.
“I’d sung all my life, but so what? What are you going to do with that? I love theater, but it’s not much part of our culture and I don’t much like directors,” he said. “It was when I started to write songs was when I felt like this was something that I wanted to do with my life. Singing was just something that I did as a kid thing — like a hobby.
“But writing — writing was different. Then I literally wrote a song, and the moment I finished the song, I sat there playing it by myself and I just felt like I was a songwriter. That literally was what it was. It was life-changing. I don’t know any other way to describe it. I felt completely defined at that moment.”
Duritz got immediate validation for his songwriting skills after the release of “August and Everything After” in 1993. Featuring the hit single “Mr. Jones,” the debut became the fastest selling album since Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” eventually topping 7 million copies sold.
Duritz struggled with the massive success and the effects it had on his everyday life. Several songs on the group’s 1996 follow-up album, “Recovering The Satellites,” alluded to his difficulties. But as time has gone on, Duritz has found his footing and Counting Crows, while not exactly being prolific in releasing new albums, has seen its five subsequent albums all debut in the Top 10 on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 album chart — except for 2012’s “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation),” which checked in at No. 11. The band grew its hit singles list with “Hanginaround,” a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Accidentally in Love.”
Along the way, Counting Crows has been a constant presence on the road, drawing comparisons to The Band, Van Morrison and R.E.M. While the commercial and critical acclaim has been fairly constant, the group has fallen victim to how broken the current music industry model has become in recent years, especially given the rise of streaming services like Spotify.
It’s no accident that it’s been four years and counting since the Crows released any new material. Not unlike many other bands, Duritz and his bandmates — guitarists David Bryson, Dan Vickery and David Immergluck, drummer Jim Bogios, keyboardist Charlie Gillingham and bassist Millard Powers — are trying to figure out their next move, even as Duritz keeps writing and his band continues booking gigs and playing live for fans.
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“I’ve got a lot of pieces of songs. I’m just a little hesitant to finish them right now because I’m a little unsure of how to put out music right now. I kind of made everybody in our organization take some time, do some research and come up with some thoughts about better ways to get our music out there,” he said.
“My last album was my favorite one that we’ve ever done. I loved (2014’s) ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland.’ It got really good critical reviews this time and didn’t make much of an impression on the culture — and I’d like to sort of change that for the next one.”
WHAT: Counting Crows: 25 Years and Counting
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (9/18)
TICKETS: $40 to $80 plus VIP options, venue box office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Uscellularcenter.com/event/counting-crows/
BAND’S WEBSITE: Countingcrows.com