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A ‘Mr. Jones’ Unrecognized

Veena Thomas

To what extent should musicians attempt to please their fans?

I recently attended a concert in Hartford, Conn., one of the stops of the Counting Crows/Live tour. Thousands of teenagers braved the downpour at the Meadows Music amphitheater in order to hear performances by not just one, but two of their favorite bands. Drenched, the die-hard fans settled back onto the lawn with their rain ponchos and awaited the performance.

I’m more of a Counting Crows fan than I am a Live fan. Live played first, leaving us to wait for Counting Crows. While I didn’t know all of the songs that Live played, they receive enough radio airtime for me to be familiar with their major singles. I really enjoyed hearing them perform; it’s always quite an experience to realize that you’re listening to a song that you’ve heard so many times before on the radio -- except that this time you’re within throwing distance of the very band performing the song. While they played some of their most famous hits, like “All Over You” and an emotional “Lightning Crashes,” other famous songs like “Turn My Head” were bypassed in favor of lesser-known songs. I was slightly disappointed, yet I knew that with only an hour of time in which to perform, Live simply couldn’t play everything. Still, having heard “Lightning Crashes,” I was satisfied.

Live left the stage, leaving us to idly chat for an hour awaiting Counting Crows. We watched the brilliant blue background go up on stage, complete with props. When the stage lights dimmed, we knew we were in for quite a show.

When the lights came back on, Counting Crows appeared on stage, and the crowd leaped to their feet. The energy was almost palpable. Yet Counting Crows opened their portion of the concert with a rather laidback song that I didn’t recognize, completely not matching the mood of the crowd. I figured that they probably wouldn’t open with one of their major singles; they’d save those for either a little later in the concert, or perhaps the encore.

I’d just have to wait. Half the reason I came to the concert was to hear Counting Crows perform “Mr. Jones” live. Since it’s one of the songs that they’re known best for, I figured I had a good chance of having my wish come true.

My heart leaped when I heard the opening chords of “Mr. Jones.” The excitement of the crowd grew. But what was this? Something didn’t sound quite right. The familiar melody of the song was there, but Adam Duritz, the lead singer, was hardly singing the song. He was speaking the words almost as though it were a task, and saying them out of sync with the background music. If I hadn’t been anticipating this song so much, I might not have recognized it.

What was going on? I looked around at the fans. Most looked like they were enjoying themselves, yet the crowd seemed nowhere near as excited as I would have expected for such a well-known song. Obviously Duritz knew how to sing “Mr. Jones,” and he wasn’t drunk or stoned or anything. He could have sang it the way that millions of people know and love it. So why didn’t he?

Perhaps he was bored. I can’t even imagine how many times he has sung that song in his career. Although the fans love it, maybe he’s tired of it. Maybe he doesn’t even like the song anymore, and wishes he had never written it. I don’t know. He decided to take a little creative license with the song, singing it the way he felt like singing it that night. Indeed, it’s his song, and he has the right to do what he wants with it more than anyone else.

But does a band have the obligation to please their fans? I don’t think that many in the crowd were pleased by the “artistic” version of “Mr. Jones.” I felt unsatisfied, almost as though I hadn’t heard the song at all. I hoped the rest of the concert would make up for it. Hopefully they would play “Sullivan Street” or “Anna Begins,” a lesser-known yet surprisingly deep song about a guy wondering how he’ll know if he loves his girlfriend. Maybe the band was more into playing songs that meant a lot to them and not just the favorites. Yet they played neither, focusing instead on newer and unreleased songs.

The fans grew restless. Luckily they played the ever-popular “Rain King” for their encore, especially fitting considering the weather that night. When the lights came on and the fans filed out, I realized how disappointed I was. Does a band play their music for their fans or for themselves? A band obviously shouldn’t sell out once they become popular, and shouldn’t play music exclusively for the benefit of the fans. Still, all of us who bought the tickets and braved the rain to watch the bands perform were the ones who enabled Counting Crows and Live to be on tour. We were the whole reason they were playing in Hartford.

Would it have killed them to play “Mr. Jones” just the way it should have been played? Undoubtedly, the fans would have been much happier. Perhaps, secretly, all I wanted was for Counting Crows to play their “August and Everything After” album from beginning to end, in exactly the same manner and order as on the CD. Maybe I should have stayed home and played the CD at top volume in my darkened room. I would have saved myself $33.50 and a lot of disappointment.