Sidewalk grate, here comes side-street Kate/Mid-Atlantic beauty makes me stay up late/Stuffed panda in her bedroom when she was three/Ten years later I skinned my knee/Meat thermometer on a back alley grill/Katie, she gave me a timely thrill/Where was my head on that summer day?/Cryin’ and kissin’ the pain away.
Answer: Neither, but either could have. Yet while one artist is regarded as one of the best songwriters ever to strap on a guitar, the other is considered by many to be the road spike that caused grunge’s fatal crash. This is a grave injustice, and it’s time for a retrial.
Overwrought, histrionic and verbally diarrhetic are adjectives which could be used to dismiss either man’s craft, just as poignant, powerful and brilliantly textured could be wielded as praise. None of these descriptions is necessarily inaccurate; it’s all in the eye of the beholder, or the ear of the listener. But Springsteen’s image was meticulously sculpted and mythologized: He was the Jersey Shore family man who stood up for working stiffs, and rose to prominence on disco’s reviled embers. Meanwhile, Duritz just sang sweet melodies and said very little, retreating into his dreadlocks and a bushel of Hollywood muff. People will find a reason to hate the guy who boned the cast of Friends, even if he makes great music.
And make no mistake about it: August and Everything After, the band's 1993 debut, is one of the best albums of the past 30 years. Had Springsteen recorded “Raining in Baltimore,” “Sullivan Street,” “Perfect Blue Buildings,” “Anna Begins,” and “Omaha,” they’d be considered American classics. But because Duritz and Counting Crows rocked those tracks just before Kurt Cobain took his dirt nap, they’re not to be spoken of again.
Yet here we are, more than 20 years later, and Counting Crows is still making music that sounds energized and adventurous. Their latest album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, is no August or Recovering the Satellites, but it’s admirably rangy, with the melodically schizophrenic first track, “Pacific Palisades,” sounding like it could evolve into a full-scale musical. Elsewhere, a pair of stripped-down tracks, “God of Ocean Tides” and “Possibility Days,” showcase Duritz’s unmistakable voice at its most endearing.
Perhaps Counting Crows’ most polarizing song is its gutsy reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s sacred “Big Yellow Taxi,” supposedly made even more despicable by the presence of Vanessa Carlton’s girly harmonies. For naysayers, Saint Joni was paradise, and Duritz was the fucking parking lot. But rock’s solid and sand isn’t, and if you don’t believe that, just wait until Counting Crows headlines Bonnaroo in 2030.
Counting Crows, with Citizen Cope and Hollis Brown, 7 p.m. Thursday, July 30, at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. bayfrontparkmiami.com, 305-358-7550 Tickets cost $30.75 to $70.25 via ticketmaster.com.