Campus Boys 

The Counting Crows surprise unsuspecting Cal students.

Love or hate them, there's a certain charm when local boys gone big time return to play their old haunts. Such was the case last Friday, when the Counting Crows performed a free "surprise" show at UC Berkeley's Lower Sproul Plaza.

Older and heftier, but with dreads still intact, Berkeley boy and Cal dropout Adam Duritz led his now-household name band in a satisfying, if less than mesmerizing, performance that spanned the group's successful fifteen-year career. Even though most of the crowd was just out of diapers when the hit "Mr. Jones" infiltrated the airwaves in 1994, they nonetheless cheered heartily as it and several of the band's other anthems echoed off the walls of the student union.

The lightly publicized hour-plus event, organized by a student group, was predictable but generally solid. The band still can do its crowd-pleasers with the charm and straightforwardness that won them initial acclaim. But some songs, including a few newer ones, came across tired and monotonous, and failed to grip the audience, whose attention appeared to wane toward the end.

With his six bandmates in tow, Duritz at times assumed a strikingly casual poise, sitting at the edge of the stage, legs dangling, as if telling stories to small children. Moments later, he was on his feet, trying to match the more typical rocker facade, leaping around the stage, a notable lack of spring in his step.

Amidst the '90s grunge explosion, the Counting Crows — who recently released Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, their first new songs since 2002 — have retained a niche in their soul-searching, roots-laced songs that drift to the lighter side of rock. With his distinctly sensitive, adolescent-toned voice and down-to-earth demeanor, Duritz seemed to relish his role during Friday's show as both performer and advisor to the youthful crowd, at one point donning a Cal hoodie and reminiscing between songs. Regardless of the lack of fireworks among the audience, the band demonstrated its solid musicianship and staying power.

"I've played Sproul in every band I've been in," he said, noting that both he and the stage were a bit smaller back in the day. "You'll see when you get outta here that you'll either get a job or do something stupid like this." 

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