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No time for nostalgia '90s bands hit the road with renewed energy and fresh material

Traditionally, concerts that swing through Dunn Tire Park include bands that offer trips down memory lane. The ballpark has been a haven for Huey Lewis' dulcet tones, the Hawaiian shirt-clad group that Mike Love calls The Beach Boys, and the wrinkled arena rock of Foreigner and The Doobie Brothers.

You know, bands from the '60s, '70s and '80s that have been riding their early success without offering anything new.

Now, with the triple bill of Counting Crows, Live and Collective Soul set to rock the ballpark next week, is it time to add '90s bands to the list?

These three groups heavily influenced what rock music would sound like in the post-grunge landscape, but other than the theme from "Shrek 2," they haven't done much in the last decade.

So why are they touring the nation's minor league baseball fields under the name "Rock 'n' Roll Triple Play Ballpark Tour"? Is it just so a few thousand thirtysomethings can drown in the mid-'90s Buzz Bin hits that were the soundtrack to their lives? Is this the 21s century version of a Foreigner tour?

The bands beg to differ.

"We named our band Live, because the live show is where we feel the real magic happens," explains lead singer Ed Kowalczyk. "Sure, there are songs that you've probably heard on the radio, that sold many copies in the '90s, but to experience our band live is to be brought into the present moment."

Jim Bogios, who has been Counting Crows' drummer since 2003, also thinks his band is far from a nostalgia machine. "When I made the decision to join this band, I had to ask myself, 'How much longer is this band going to be around, and what do they have to say?' And I picked up "Hard Candy" [Counting Crows' 2002 album], and the songs are amazing. That really made the decision for me. This band has got a lot more to say."

Counting Crows has always made rock music that shimmers with authenticity, a loving grandson of Van Morrison's earnest, pastoral folk-rock. The merits of lead singer/songwriter Adam Duritz's voice can certainly be argued, but as it cracks and wavers over the chord progressions, it always sounds honest. Bogios claims that the band's early work (the massive 1993 album "August And Everything After" and its superior follow-up, 1996's "Recovering The Satellites") is just as relevant now as it was then. When listening to the joyful, mandolin-driven "Rain King," or the Eastern orchestral swells of "I'm Not Sleeping," it's clear that the Crows' music is aging well. With a new album in the can, tentatively titled "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings" and ready to be released this fall, the band is ready to prove that it can do much more than play hits "Mr. Jones" and "A Long December" to death.

As for Live, at its peak the band defined what it was to be "important" '90s rock stars, with its lyrically ambitious (and fairly pretentious) smash albums "Mental Jewelry" and "Throwing Copper," which did a fair job of carrying the art rock torches of U2 and Peter Gabriel. Kowalczyk and company have made unabashedly dramatic rock songs from the beginning, relying almost exclusively on dynamics (does that soft verse/loud chorus approach ever get old?). It's tough to imagine a band that takes itself so seriously just throwing in the towel, parading out the old hits to pay the bills.

"Our fans know that we're not about the logistics of it all," Kowalczyk continues. "Once we hit the stage -- that's what it's all about. And if we can get a couple more fans this summer by doing these ballparks, playing our 'hits' as well as songs from our latest album [2006's "Songs From Black Mountain"], then that's what we're there to do."

Of course, it's up to listeners to ultimately decide if Counting Crows and Live are relevant, contemporary music makers or just a couple of time capsules. Both bands certainly see themselves as the former, continuing to write and perform at a feverish pace, one that rivals Foreigner's peak temperature of 103 degrees. If they get their way, their show at the beginning of August won't have you reminiscing about the past, but looking forward to everything after.



Rock 'n' Roll Triple Play Ballpark Tour

Counting Crows, Live, Collective Soul

6:30 p.m. Wed., Aug. 1

Dunn Tire Park, downtown

Tickets: $49.50 at Dunn Tire Park Box Office

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