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September 6, 2009

Concert review: Counting Crows, Michael Franti and Augustana at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Half the seats were empty when Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz snuck out from behind the curtain and sat on the edge of the stage.

It was only 7 p.m. -- no one was expecting any music for another few minutes, at least. But there was Duritz, who greeted the audience, and with the help of a guitarist, eased into an acoustic cover of the Psychedelic Furs song "The Ghost in You."

"We thought we'd sing a song for you before the show starts," he said.

That was just one of many spontaneous moments at last night's show at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The tour, called the Traveling Circus and Medicine Show, was a novel way to present the rock group Augustana, the hip-hop/reggae/funk act Michael Franti and Spearhead and the Counting Crows: Instead of having two openers and a headliner, the three bands traded songs for nearly four hours.

At times, all three bands -- almost 20 musicians all told -- would play at once. That's how they opened the show, with a rendition of Van Morrison's "Caravan." The stage may have looked crowded but didn't sound it; early on, all three bands settled into an easy groove and rarely left it. ...

If last night's show was a circus, Duritz was both ringleader and lovable clown (just swap the colorful wig for some floppy dreadlocks). Singing lead, background or duet, depending on the song, he rarely left the stage.

After nearly two decades of leading the Counting Crows and more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, the 45-year-old front man could still pass for the good-natured guy next door. His voice is every bit as vulnerable and versatile now as it was when he playfully longed for fame in the Counting Crows' first hit, "Mr. Jones." (Last night's version of that song sounded fresh and buoyant, by the way.)

A quibble: Circus may have been a misleading name for this tour -- it was more of a hootenanny or jamboree than a wild and crazy spectacle. Besides, Britney Spears has the circus concept on lock down this year. 

Despite being the final stop on the tour, last night's show sounded fresh and energized. Actress Emmy Rossum joined Duritz for a striking duet of the tune "Going Back To Georgia."

Augustana often slowed down the pace a bit for ambling Americana/rock songs and ballads such as their single "Boston." Lead singer Dan Layus has a great range (and makes some great facial expressions to boot).

Whenever the show seemed to be on the verge of dragging, Franti would emerge and pump things up again. The night's cutest moment came near the end, when, joined by charismatic singer Cherine Anderson, Franti invited a bunch of kids from the audience on stage to help him sing his first Top 40 song, "Say Hey (I Love You)." Anderson was letting the kids sing some of the lyrics. One kid, sporting a Terrell Suggs jersey and jeans and strumming an inflatable guitar, sang "I know one thing / I love you" and raised his right fist in the air. Now that's a rock star in training.

Other high points were the Counting Crows ballad "A Long December," and "Hanginaround" -- the Crows' laid back ode to slacking.

The five-song encore started with a foot-stomping cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia" and ended with Woodie Guthrie's classic singalong, "This Land is Your Land."

As the show was winding down, Duritz grabbed a mic and reflected on the past several weeks.

"It's three bands, but I think as you've seen tonight, it's one band," he said. "For the first time in a long time, I remember what it's like to deeply love music."

After seeing last night's show, I believe it.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 6:18 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Concert reviews


Amen, brother, you nailed it. Grant you the noncircus comment but everyone was on their feet dancing almost the whole evening. That is circus enough for me. One quibble also, this was the last appearance of the traveling circus and medicine show for the year. I thought it was 2nd to last also but when Adam said at the end of the concert that it was the last I went back and looked it up. The traveling circus website showed a last show on Sunday but it was Counting Crows and Augustana only, not Michael Franti & Spearhead.

Thanks for clearing that up. Fixed!

What a great show! Wrapped up a week of good times at Merriweather. Adam always puts on special show on whenever he brings the band back to Columbia. So sad to see such a great Summer concert season come to an end, but at least it went off on a high note!

Franti did the same thing at the Ram's Head Live, somebody brought their 6 year old and the kid got up and knew the whole the song. They also invited up a guy who proposed to his fiancee on stage.

Great energetic performance, wish I'd seen last night's show.

Thanks for sharing such nice information on a music concert and your cherished moments here. I like it. I also like to attend live music concert. Well it is nice to post here. I like this site.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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