Editors note: One of my biggest joys in starting Pass The Aux has been giving people an opportunity to photograph shows of their favorite bands. Chad Cochran was my high-school video production teacher more than 10 years ago, and after we collaborated on covering Blurry Vision Festival in May, he asked about the possibility of shooting Counting Crows, his favorite band of all-time. He drove across the state to shoot them in Irvine on Sunday at Five Point Ampitheater and wrote about it for me, check it out!
I had a lot of time on my seven hour drive from Northern California to the Five Point Amphitheater in Irvine. I brought a friend with me and we enjoyed all of the usual sights on the I-5, but there were pauses in conversation and times when I found my mind wandering in anticipation of what was about to happen when I reached the Amphitheater. This was no normal road trip to see a concert, no, this was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. Ever since I was 16 years old my favorite band has been the Counting Crows.
I have seen them eleven times in concert and learned every lyric, musical note, and fun fact about the band. But today was different, I was not just going to see the Counting Crows, I was going to be photographing them live in concert. This has been a dream of mine for the past 22 years, and it was finally coming true.
Getting into the concert at FivePoint Amphitheatre was simple and surprisingly painless. Even though the 2013 Accord I was driving did not know that the place existed, there was signage and even flashlight waving employees directing traffic about a half mile away from the parking. The parking was “free” or “included in the ticket price” which makes the flow of traffic much easier to deal with. This seems to be more common in recent shows and I am really happy that venues are starting to do this.
Upon entering the Amphitheater I was greeted by the extremely friendly PR employee who was going to be directing the press for the evening. I suspected that something was up because she was so friendly and even brought the photographers cold water since it was still in the 90 degree range at 6pm. To my surprise, she, and all of the staff and vendors that I interacted with, were just very nice. Normally, photographers and writers can be treated as an imposition on the venue, but they were happy to have us and willing to help. Even the PR reps for the individual bands wanted to make sure that I was taken care of, unbelievable.
Ok, onto the music. When I got there Boom Forest was playing their set. We were told that no photo pit access would be allowed for their set and therefore this article is not going to have any Boom Forest images. Sorry. I will say that Boom Forest seem to be great musicians with a future ahead of them in the more relaxed genres of music. Their pseudo reggae rock mix was a comfortable mix of music to start the show, but it was not filling the seats. A lot of the fans were still out getting drinks, laying on the lawn outside of the seating area, or involved in some high stakes games of cornhole provided by the Amphitheater. Most of the early crowd was there to see LiVE and their hard rocking hits. They were fine with sitting out the opening act for a few extra beers.
I met up with the super nice PR lady and the photographers were ushered into the photo-pit in front of the stage for our three-song allowance of photography time. The anticipation by the crowd in the front few rows was palpable and even included a lady in a white dress with red roses ready to greet LiVE as they came onto the stage. When they did arrive on the stage it was pure energy from all members involved. Wearing a red trucker hat, leopard print t-shirt, and reflective sunglasses that would make most motorcycle officers jealous, Ed Kowalczyk took command of the stage immediately. His interactions with the crowd only come from a musician that has had years to perfect their craft. Starting with a fan favorite, “All Over You,” only intensified the electricity in the building as the crowd stood to welcome the 1994 hit that helped escalate Live into the mainstream.
The rest of the set included the usual call backs to the hits that were so influential in getting them into the legendary status of 1990s rock. There was the inclusion of a new track called “Love Lounge” that the fans seemed to enjoy and respect, but there were no secrets that the crowd was there for the hits and it seemed that LiVE was well aware of that. They know that they are not kids anymore. In fact, before playing the hit “Heaven” that Ed wrote about the birth of his first daughter, he pointed up to the VIP on-stage section and spoke of his now three daughters and one son being in attendance. The lyrics for the song were correctly adapted to “I look at my daughter(s)” to include the growing Kowalczyk family.
To finish off their set, LiVE turned to their biggest hit to date, “Lightning Crashes.” As the lyric “I can feel it” was repeated over and over to close out their set, I wondered if the meaning had been disassociated from the song and now a metaphor for LiVE enjoying the moment being back on stage. Sometimes you see performers on stage trying to get through a set like a long day at work. It was great to see a group of guys who have been friends from the age 13 and younger, from a factory town in Pennsylvania, get on stage and just have fun. Oh, and sound pretty amazing doing it too.
It was now time for the biggest moment of my photography life. I walked to the waiting area for the photographers to enter the photo-pit for the Counting Crows. I was nervous. It should be said that this is not what I do for a living. I am a high school teacher. I teach teenagers how to use video cameras and still cameras to capture moments in time that will never be same, and how to manipulate those images to reflect what type of artist they want to be. That is my day job, and that is how I got this job. One of my former students, from over 10 years ago, started this Pass the Aux website. When an opportunity to photograph these 90’s rock bands arose, Mark emailed his old teacher and asked if I would be interested. Of course I would not miss this opportunity and plans were made for me to drive to LA and back with a smile on my face the entire time.
I entered the pit and started to photograph everything I could. The crowd, the lights, the drum kit, even the guitar techs that were setting up. I told myself to calm down and I got myself under control. All of that control would soon be lost to my fan side as soon as I saw my hero of the musical world standing in the shadows just off stage. Adam Duritz, the man with the most signature hair in all of music was putting in his in-ear monitor and getting ready to approach the stage along with bandmates David Bryson, Charlie Gillingham, Dan Vickrey, David Immerglück, Jim Bogios, Millard Powers. All of them masters of what they do and collectively the band in the world. Wait, I am not supposed to be biased, but they are.
I knew that I only had three songs to photograph the band from the pit and I was going to do the best job that I ever had. I was so nervous about getting this correct that I went to the concert in Murphy’s California just five days prior to make sure I knew where everyone was going to be standing and set up. I am glad that I did, and to be honest, I didn’t mind seeing the Crows two times in one week.
The opening few songs were great. Although they changed it up on me and opened with “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” instead of “Round Here” like they did in Murphy’s, I adapted. It may have been the fact that I had a smile from ear to ear, or the fact that I was singing along to every word, but they sounded great. Adam was at his best and playing off the crowd. I think being from LA he knew many people in the crowd because he kept smiling and laughing as if there was an inside joke with members of the crowd. The playfulness of it did not detract from the performance and instead made it less robotic and more “you had to be there to see it.”
To make the tour special and to mark the 25 years the Counting Crows being on tour, the band decided to talk a little bit about some of the songs before they played them. That was the case before they played their third song, “Omaha.” It was great for the fans to get some introspection on the songs that they have grown up loving. It was similar to the VH1 Storytellers that was released as a part of the Live Across a Wire album that came out in 1998. If you don’t own that album, go get it now….I will wait…. If you have an HD video of the VH1 Storytellers please let me know. I only have my VHS copy. Adam also described some other songs throughout the night, a lot of them had to do with Los Angeles and their time living in LA. It was cool to hear since this was different than the description about other songs I had heard at the Murphy’s concert.
I had two great photo moments in the photo-pit during the first three songs. The first is when Adam decided the best place to sit during “Omaha” would be right in front of me and my camera. I had to take a step back to photograph him because I didn’t want to get in his way. It was amazing to have who I consider the most influential songwriter of my generation less than a foot from me. Maybe one day my teacher salary will afford the meet and greet tickets, but for now that is the closest I will ever get to meeting my hero. The second moment from the pit that was a lot of fun was trying to get the drummer, Jim Bogios to notice my hat. I wore a hat from the high school that Jim and I both attended and that I now teach at. He never saw the hat, but it was fun trying to get him to notice.
After leaving the photo pit I wandered around the concert and took in the enjoyment on so many people’s faces. It really is amazing to see how well received the Counting Crows are by so many people. Young and old were there to watch the show and it seemed like no matter the age of the viewer, Adam and his team of all-star musicians found a way to captivate the audience. They played the fan favorites, departing at times to include other melodies and working their way back to the original. They played “Mr. Jones,” their breakout hit and the audience exploded. It was clear that the fringe fans that only came out to see the Crows were waiting for that song to drop. I am glad that they got their moment to enjoy the band as much as I do. They did not play that song at the show in Murphy’s and I heard a few people asking about it on the way out of the show. My favorite song of the night was “Catapult.” The opening track off of their Recovering the Satellites album that is so jam packed with emotion about loneliness it is ironic to hear everyone sing it together.
A band that can perform their music and actually sound better than their record is very hard to find. Year after Year (or “Time and Time Again”, sorry, had too) the Counting Crows have proven their ability to do just that. They have so much material that you never know what they are going to play, and it turns out that whatever they play is so good that you never want the night to end. Like all great things, this concert did come to an end and my fanboy experience with it. But I will always have my photographs of one of the best nights of my life…I wonder how my wife would feel about a concert picture over the mantel instead of the family portrait. Kidding, sort of.
Words and photos by Chad Cochran