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Published: Sunday, 11/17/2002

Counting Crows fly high

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Adam Duritz, the soul-baring, dreads-wearing lead singer of Counting Crows, doesn't mind talking about his shortcomings, fears, and pet peeves. Why should he, when he typically turns them into hit songs?

“I write about me, and I'm always pleasantly surprised that other people relate to it as well,” said Duritz, whose band will be in concert Tuesday night at the SeaGate Convention Centre.

It's not always a flattering view, the singer-songwriter said in a recent interview from a tour stop in Virginia.

Counting Crows' latest hit, “American Girls,” for example, moves with bouncy, melodic grace but its lyrics reveal a flash of chauvinism and an insensitivity that Duritz is not happy to find within himself.

“When I was done, I suddenly realized I accidentally wrote a Smiths song,” he said, referring to the melodic-but-mopey '80s band led by Steven Morrissey. “I didn't mean to. But it's got the dual acoustic guitars. It's driven by a great little hooky melody. But let's face it, it's a song about a real [jerk], disguised as he is.

“He takes this person for granted. And that last line - `If I made you cry please tell me why, 'cause I'll try again if you let me try' - it's a terrible thing to say,” said Duritz, who has appeared in gossip columns for past romances with actresses Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox.

Joining the band to sing background vocals on the single was Sheryl Crow, a longtime friend of Duritz.

“I have so much respect for her. She took a lot of [flak],” he said. “When she tried to do things her own way, people said she was just a pawn of the people around her, that she wouldn't be anything without the band. That's such chauvinistic [garbage] to lay on her. I'm so proud of her for proving them all wrong.”

The song's chorus, “American girls, all weather and noise” shows the literary inklings of Duritz, who said that “weather and noise” was a nod to Shakespeare's phrase “sound and fury” from King Lear.

The 38-year-old singer, who was born in Baltimore and reared in the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the University of California to form Counting Crows, but he never lost his appetite for literature, music, and pop culture.

Duritz and fellow Crows Charlie Gillingham, Ben Mize, David Immergluck, Dan Vickrey, and David Bryson travel with a mobile library of books, CDs, and videos on their bus.

Among his recent reading experiences, Duritz said, are Kafka Was the Rage by Anatole Broyard and My Losing Season by Pat Conroy.

“I've also been going through the pulp science fiction books that I find in the paperback racks of the used-book stores,” he said.

Counting Crows' fifth and latest release, “Hard Candy,” came out in July and was certified a Gold Record, for sales of more than 500,000 copies, last month.

Duritz said it was an attempt to write about memories, which he described as “different from other forms of pleasure and different from other forms of pain.”

While some rock groups are happy to maintain a similar sound and style from one album to the next, Counting Crows wanted “Hard Candy” to be unlike anything the band had done before.

Taking such an artistic leap, without the safety net of commercial predictability, is something that the Beatles always did, Duritz said, adding that he was not trying to compare Counting Crows to the Fab Four.

And while Counting Crows' fans are among the more thoughtful in rock and roll, change can take time for them to accept, he said.

The group's phenomenally popular 1994 debut disc, “August and Everything After,” sold 7 million copies, but sales of its sophomore effort, 1996's “Recovering the Satellites,” was only 2 million - an impressive figure but still a marked drop-off.

“I was crushed when people at the time didn't respond to `Satellites' because I thought it was so much of a leap forward from `August' and it was so personal and meant so much to me,” Duritz wrote in his online journal (www.adam.countingcrows.com). “I was so proud of it and it was devastating. I've always felt it was our best work. I still do. Now the songs from that album are some of the most requested in concert and I realize it just took time.”

In order to add to the diversity and to avoid stagnation in the studio, Counting Crows recorded “Hard Candy” in separate sessions sandwiched between short concert tours.

The group also used two different producers: Ethan Johns, who has worked with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown and is the son of famed producer Glynn Johns, and Steve Lillywhite, one of the top names in the business whose resume includes recordings with U2, the Rolling Stones, and the Talking Heads.

“Ethan's father engineered [the Beatles'] `Let It Be' and `Who's Next',” Duritz said. “And Ethan can play any instrument there is. I really liked working with him.”

Lately, Duritz has become a bit obsessed with creating a series of songs that would comprise “the perfect set list” for a concert.

“I've got it in my mind that I want to come up with an absolutely amazing set with a group of alternates to flow in and out of it,” he explained. “Actually, it would be two or three sets, one with an acoustic night if we want to do that.”

He said his quest began when Counting Crows brought in a lighting designer who had previously worked with art-rock band Radiohead.

“We've got this great opportunity to create a show that really moves people, a three-dimensional show with light and sound.”

He said he was surprised to learn from his own experience that, although the group generally shifts the songs around each concert, he doesn't mind singing the same tunes every night.

“A song is still something that you experience right there, at that moment. Even if we did the same exact set every night for a year, it would still be a different show every night because the songs would have a different mood.”

With Counting Crows having very few personnel changes since it was formed 10 years ago, Duritz said it's easy to communicate with the other musicians onstage when he wants to extend a song or change the tempo. “I've got hand gestures,” he said.

Duritz said he has become more comfortable with the fame that caused him to step back from the crush of fans and media after his band rocketed to stardom in 1994. He said at the time that angry comments and criticisms from complete strangers caused a temporary case of writer's block and made him reluctant to deal with the public.

He gradually adapted and has become one of the most fan-friendly stars in rock music, exchanging messages on the Internet, writing the online journal, and sticking around to sign autographs after almost every concert.

The band allows fans to tape concerts and trade recordings.

“Well, I think you adjust to everything,” he explained. “Most of the problems with the fame thing isn't you, it's something the people do to you. People start acting insane around you.

“You don't do anything different, but the whole world acts like idiots - screaming and chasing you like those scenes from the Beatles movies. It was like waking up one morning and you're on Mars. The gravity is weird, and eventually you adjust to it. But it just happened so fast.”

Opening the show will be Uncle Kracker, the Detroit rock-rapper who has been one of Kid Rock's buddies.

Born Matt Shafer, Uncle Kracker was signed to Kid Rock's Top Dog label in 2000 and recently released his sophomore CD, “No Stranger to Shame.”

Counting Crows will be in concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday at SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave., with Uncle Kracker. Tickets are $27.50 and $28.50 from Ticketmaster and the box office, 419-321-5007.



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