Toronto Molson Amphitheatre

It's clear [a]Live[/a] have stolen the evening...

“We’re gonna play you a beautiful set tonight,” harps [a]Counting Crows[/a] leader Adam Duritz, “we’ll leave the rock songs for another time.” Apparently Duritz‘s girlfriend is from this town, and her parents are in attendance. “I gotta make a good impression,” Duritz adds, with a smile. Great, the night’s turned into a very expensive courting ritual.

Fortunately for this crowd, there isn’t much of a difference between the Crows‘ ballads and their “rockers”. All are full of ponderous melodrama and stream-of-thought lyrics, along with the prerequisite army of guitars, mandolins and keyboards. It’s just not very…interesting, though.

Yes, it’s the Counting Crows/Live split-headline tour. Welcome to the middle of the road.

The place is packed way out into the venue’s lawn seating. Yet, it’s hardly a flamboyant crowd – nothing too flash or weird can be seen. Oh, how the first few Lollapalooza years are becoming an increasingly hazy memory.

And while the folks in this crowd will go to the office tomorrow, raving about how great the [a]Counting Crows[/a] were, barely anyone is standing up or making a fuss at this point. It’s a sit-down crowd, for sure, but Michael Stipe-obsessed Duritz and crew pile through their repertoire regardless – perhaps this is a normal audience reaction for them. Only the hit, ‘Mr. Jones’, brings everybody to their feet in a flurry of recognition and conservative shuffling.

There are other moments – especially the gospel-esque sing-along ‘Hanginaround’(which features members of Live) – to spark the crowd’s dancing shoes. But the AOR Crows work best here when they keep it safe, innocuous and asexual. After all, it’s much less dangerous to stay sitting down.

Live, on the other hand, seem to have spent the last decade turning their onstage show into a crowd-participation, rock extravaganza. Live records aren’t exactly AC/DC records, yet the band is still able to turn tracks like ‘All Over You’ and ‘They Stood Up For Love’ into audience-chanting arena anthems.

Sadly, animated singer Edward Kowalczyk has to tell the crowd that “sitting down in the first ten rows is really disrespectful to a rock band”. But the people soon get the hint, and the energy level climbs 200 per cent. “Give me some of that clavinet, Stevie Wonder-shit that you do so well,” Kowalczyk demands of keyboardist Michael Railton during ‘The Distance’. The group once more bursts from the confines of its recorded work, and the audience finally remembers it’s at a concert, not a bookstore.

The CrowsDuritz cheerily comes out to join Lowalczyk for a while (much to the crowd’s approval), but it’s clear that Live have stolen the evening.

Who’d have thought Live would turn into such a bombastic rock band? Hopefully Duritz and his cronies are taking notes.