Counting Crows soar, Toad the Wet Sprocket keep hopping along at Chastain Park Amphitheatre



ATLANTA – A zoological trio of band names united to form another fine evening at Chastain Amphitheatre, Sunday, June 22. Adam Duritz apologized for the temperature, admitting they had no control, but had the presence of mind to change his shirt twice.

Duritz, with the most distinctive hairdo in rock (and that's saying a lot) strode barefoot onto the stage as Daniel and The Lion were getting situated. A babble of disbelief swept around the amphitheater, as we thought that he actually might play with them.

All earnestness, he wanted to thank us for showing up early and tell us how happy he was to have them touring with them. It was a noble attempt to urge the audience into divert their attention from their tablemates to the stage. He also exhorted one and all to exercise our right to vote and make our voices heard.

In the Lions' den

Although their name is a tad confusing (Daniel and the Lions? Androcles and the Lion?) from the get-go, it was clear why they had been chosen to open. Their sound is evocative of Counting Crows' own.

Their latest record (I love that they call it that) has the cognitively dissonant title "Death Head." It sounds like an anger punk name, but it's a gently rocking ballad with what sounds like the drum track of Counting Crows' "Hangin' Around."

"Flash Flood" has some distinctive lyrics: "Everything is nothing, and we're somewhere in between, The good, the bad, the ugly and the mean." "The Dark Red Waltz" sounds ripe for the picking for Hollywood. It would be great for running over the credits.

"On Berlin" is a wistful piano-heavy serenade that alludes to the walls between us. "Forever" has a guitar track that sounds like U2's The Edge. Small wonder as they hail from Ireland, as well.

They've also been compared to Will Hoge, John Mayer, Ryan Adams and The Fray. They have an impressive tour schedule, and a great ad-free page on bandcamp ( that plays tunes for free and includes lyrics and personnel.

Rock on the ocean

Alt-rockers Toad the Wet Sprocket adopted their name only as a joke in response to their failure to come up with anything they could all agree on. Its genesis was a Monty Python sketch by Eric Idle. Hilariously, Eric made up the silliest, least likely name for a rock group for the skit, and nearly drove off the freeway years later when he heard a song played by Toad the Wet Sprocket.

They had achieved some notoriety and it wouldn't have been prudent to have changed it then, so it has stood. They were formed in 1986, and broke up about a decade later. After another decade they decided to get back together, and have been touring every year since 2010, and in 2013 released their first album since 1997, "New Constellation." They are nearly unique in that their membership has remained unchanged since inception.

After opening with "The Moment," the barefoot Glen Phillips asked, "It was 1-1 when we stepped out on the stage. What is it now?" Half the men in the amphitheater were glued to the World Cup on their smart phones. "2-1" bellowed out several.

He remarked on the extreme friendliness of Atlantans -- especially a mosquito that was all up in his business. A kindly lady seated near the stage handed him up some repellent. "Thank you, ma'am! You'll get this back when the Crows come on." Appropriately, they then played "Whatever I Fear."

Cries of "USA! USA!" rang out after another song and he said, "2-2? That's final? You know, it's an interesting perspective from up here with all your tables facing us. It's like a modern interpretation of ‘The Last Supper.’"

They ended up with three favorites: "All I Want," "Fall Down," and of course, "Walk On The Ocean."

Atlanta date caws for celebration

Lead singer Adam Duritz has put his days as an English major at Berkeley to good use crafting the alchemy of turning the base metal of his pain into gold -- and platinum. Mental illness has been the bane of his existence. He says that although writing a song about a break-up doesn't make it stop hurting, at least he has a song to show for it at the end of the day.

"Private Archipelago" is a good metaphor for that otherness some of us feel more than others. When he sings "Why can't anybody see me? And why can't anybody hear me? Why? . . . Why? . . . Why?" His singing was so plaintive and vulnerable, he could break your heart.

He's been more outspoken than most celebs on the subject of his mental illness, and deserves recognition and approbation for being so transparent about his challenges. I'm sure knowing that someone as famous and successful as he can be open about it gives hope to others similarly struggling.

"I write songs about everybody, but nobody writes any songs about me. This one is a song about being crazy. It's about me. It's called 'Hospital.'" No beating around the bush there!

"Color Blind" provides us with a guided tour of dissociative disorder: "I am covered in skin. No one gets to come in. Pull me out from inside. I am folded, and unfolded and unfolding." Beautiful disembodied cellos from the keys of the synthesizer enhanced the haunting mood.

But as in life, the concert had plenty of fun moments as well. You gotta love the line "People of the Mardi Gras in their Tuesday best."

They interspersed several songs off their impending album, "Somewhere Under Wonderland." Some were more than a little bit country. "Cover Up The Sun" sounded like a direct export from Nashville.

Charlie Gillingham wields his squeeze box like a rocker, once jauntily leaning on the granite wall like a Parisian on a street lamp.

Duritz said that the first of the songs on their new album that should get radio play was "Scarecrow."

Their cover of the Grateful Dead's "Friend Of The Devil" is always a shoo-in to please the masses, but for me, "Big Yellow Taxi" is about as tired as a taxi driver. Its message is still important, so it's hard to complain, though.

It's hard to fault bands who want to mix it up a little, rather than just play their same ol' same ol' hits every time they come to town. Duritz is famous for playing whatever he darn well feels like, and they can change from moment to moment up until show time. He released a hand scrawled setlist of the Chastain concert, with what looks like six songs written and scribbled over -- in the case of the opener, twice.

I personally was disappointed not to hear "Sullivan Street" and "She Talks To Angels." "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" was not on the list, but I would swear on a polygraph that I heard him sing "I can't remember yesterday."

He launched into an extended version of "Oh, Susannah!" in the middle of "Rain King," the second of their three-song encore, perhaps to the exclusion of "Goodnight Elisabeth." :-( They ended up the evening with Adam pantomiming an airplane on "Holiday In Spain" like a child singing "I'm A Little Teapot."

He truly is the most iconoclastic frontman in rock today, an endearing man child whose heart and soul are the match for his unique genius. And we are all the better for his being in our world, even when he's not so sure he is. "I don't know if you can hear me. . ." Yes, we do. We all do.

View desktop version