Wednesday’s show at Starlight Theatre was billed as one installment in the Brief History of Everything Tour, which featured the Counting Crows and Matchbox Twenty.
Kansas City had seen/heard something close to this presentation before, exactly one year ago to the date, coincidentally, when Rob Thomas opened for Counting Crows on Sept. 27, 2016, at Starlight.
Time has a way of diluting and diminishing memories, however, so the close proximity between the shows didn’t appear to affect the crowd of more than 7,500 who showed up and, for the most part, indulged in the music all night.
Both bands on this co-headlining tour emerged into the music scene in the 1990s, roughly 25 years ago. Both peaked commercially and otherwise shortly after the millennium, but time and distance have revived a demand for their music, which is as innocuous as it is appealing.
After an opening set by Rivers Rust, a side project that includes Matchbox Twenty guitarist Kyle Cook, Counting Crows hit the stage just as twilight settled in. Lead singer Adam Duritz still sports a notable mane of dreadlocks. These days, his thick-framed glasses and dandy mustache give him more than a slight resemblance to Gene Shalit.
Duritz still sings most of his songs like he’s auditioning for the lead in a Van Morrison biopic, which is not a bad thing. His voice adds some essential soul to his songs, which are typically melodic and packed with colorful and thoughtful lyrics.
They opened with “Round Here,” the opening track on “August and Everything After,” released in September 1993, a jangly, tuneful rock-folk recording that remains one of the best debut albums of its decade. From there, the set list bounded about a catalog that comprises seven studio albums and spans more than 21 years.
Songs like “Miami” and “Goodnight L.A.,” from the “Hard Candy” album, and “Washington Square,” an ode to Duritz’s hometown (Baltimore), aroused hearty ovations.
But the tracks that prompted the loudest responses and the widespread sing-alongs were those from the “August” album: the mournful “Omaha”; “Mr. Jones,” a rock-soul anthem that was, uncharacteristically, performed relatively close to the way it was recorded; and the set’s closer, “Rain King,” which was given a brash, bright show tune treatment.
The other highlights: the elegiac “A Long December,” a “Let It Be”-like ballad (with some tasty accordion trimmings) from the underappreciated “Recovering the Satellites” album.
The Crows’ set lasted a shade under 90 minutes and comprised 14 songs, which indicates how jammy some of the tunes were. “Round Here” went on for about nine minutes. That and the overall midtempo-ness of many the songs bogged down the mood in places, until they disrupted that mood with something bright and funkier, like “Hanginaround,” which featured some guest vocals from Thomas.
Matchbox Twenty’s previous performance in Kansas City was more than four years ago, in June 2013. Thomas has performed here twice since then, including last September, but given the big turnout and the crowd’s response Wednesday night, it’s clear which the fans prefer.
They stuffed the set list with favorites and hits, starting with the opener, “Real World,” one of several tracks pulled from “Yourself or Someone Like You,” their first and most successful album (12 million sold in the U.S.), released in October 1996.
Thomas is a serviceable singer, a low-cal/poor man’s Gregg Allman: He can carry a tune without spilling it and evoke just enough soul to pass muster. He is an enthusiastic live performer — not the smoothest dancer but one who is earnest in his attempts to express his sentiments in motions and gestures.
In contrast with the Crows, their set was livelier because their songs are typically more robust. And when they lit the fuses on megahits and nuggets like “Bent,” “If You’re Gone,” “Unwell” and “Push,” they ignited furious responses.
They dropped in one cover and half of another. They (inexplicably) fused “Downfall” with a verse or two and chorus from Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” And they opened their four-song encore with a worthwhile cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which provoked another hearty sing-along, even among those in the big crowd who clearly weren’t alive when that song was released.
They closed with an oldie, “Long Day,” the first single from “Yourself,” and “Bright Lights,” a Billy Joel-like ballad featuring Thomas at the piano.
Before that, however, they launched “3 A.M.,” one of their several platinum singles, a song that was all over radio 20 years ago. This evening, it was also one of many songs that proved sometimes history shows up disguised as nostalgia.
Counting Crows: Round Here; Hard Candy; Dislocation; Colorblind; Omaha; I Wish I Was a Girl; Miami; Washington Square; Goodnight L.A.; A Long December; Mr. Jones; Hanginaround; Palisades Park; Rain King.
Matchbox Twenty: Real World; Girl Like That; She’s So Mean; Bent; Downfall/Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; If You’re Gone; The Difference; How Far We’ve Come; Disease; Radio; English Town; Hang; Unwell; Back 2 Good; Push. Encore: Don’t You Forget About Me; 3 A.M.; Long Day; Bright Lights.