Anyone complaining that the 2016 Waterfront summer concert series lacked variety is just looking for something to complain about. Bangor’s Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion has been ripe with performances spanning from country to classic rock to metal this year, and smack in the middle was Rob Thomas and Counting Crows, in some ways a stand out show for the year, featuring that 1990s American rock sound we all know and love. This was good, folks.
Starting the show were K Phillips. Out of Nashville, K Philips had the audience’s attention from the first song, “Dirty Wonder,” off their latest release also by the same name. Complete with Southern keyboards and a strong female harmony, K Philips is ripe with bluesy, country, Southern flavor that is refreshingly grown up. Strong on Americana and just lonesome enough, their short set was interesting and had many in the crowd up on their feet to grab the new CD.
Of course, I expected Rob Thomas’ performance to be good, he’s Rob Thomas, but this was something special, uncommonly good. And that’s not just me talking – everyone I’ve chatted with has said the same thing – Fantastic Show! Looking around at the crowd during the set, the fans were all smiles and loving it. The production felt Big – stuffed with strong guitar riffs, keyboards, ripping drums, and bass – all well-designed to create a roaring rock and roll vibe that had the crowd cheering, dancing, and singing along. Vocally, Thomas, who never stopped bouncing and trotting across the stage, is right on the money, as if time hasn’t passed at all. Thomas has been releasing music since Matchbox 20 hit the charts in the 90s, and his setlist was a nice cross section of his catalog. Also welcome, as always, was Thomas’ signature lyrical take on the human condition, and his songs do stand the test of time.
Okay, clearly, I enjoyed this show and could list off song by song, but I’ll keep myself contained to a few highlights. The set was a nice mix of hits, new and old, including “Her Diamonds,” newer release “Pieces,” and my favorite Matchbox 20 song “Bent.” Every song, whether I recognized it and could sing along or not, was compelling lyrically as well as in composition, which also means that the mix was perfect. Frank Romano on lead guitar stole the show repeatedly. Thomas’ cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was crazy good – I did not see that one coming. I must admit I’m not sure about the country arrangement for “3 A.M.,” but strangely enough the song’s story did hold up to pedal steel guitar. Who knew? And finally, watching so many people in the crowd sing along to “Unwell” was rather poignant, demonstrating that music does have the power to say what so many of us feel. As I said earlier, Fantastic Show!
The final act of the night, Counting Crows had a lot to live up to, and I’ll just get to the point: I’m afraid that feedback from attendees was not completely glowing, and I struggled to connect with the set. On the positive side, Adam Duritz was wonderful and charmed the crowd with stories and seemed genuinely happy to be performing. His vocals were good, full of emotion and strong. The band, filling the stage, was tight, and the mix was great. Everything sounded wonderful, just as expected. So what was not to like? Fans explained that they enjoyed the show but were disappointed in the setlist’s failure to include more of the well-known songs. They liked what they heard, they just didn’t hear what they were hoping for from one of their longtime favorite bands. Personally, I found the stage lighting, particularly early in the set, to be blindingly uncomfortable. This made it very difficult to watch the stage and enjoy the music. In summary, the crowd was happy enough and the music sounded great, but the performance left folks feeling like something was missing.
All in all, Rob Thomas and Counting Crows was a big night for fans on Bangor’s Waterfront, some points higher than others, but another great night of music.