I saw two concerts over the past week: Hot Chelle Rae on Saturday at the Deschutes County Fair in Redmond, and Counting Crows on Tuesday at Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend.
I started to write a piece comparing and contrasting the two, but honestly, it was boggling my mind a little bit. So here's a quick recap of each:
• The current darlings of vapid Top 40 radio, Hot Chelle Rae are four handsome white kids from Nashville, Tenn., who make super-charged glam-pop-rock about splitting up with your girlfriend but whatever, who cares, let's party! To their credit, they play their instruments (their dads are all music-biz vets) and frontman Ryan Follese can really sing. This is not a boy-band situation, but it's close.
If you've never heard of them, that's OK; lots of people younger than you have. In fact, Hot Chelle Rae drew an eye-popping 11,400 people to the fairgrounds' event center Saturday night, breaking the venue's all-time attendance record. The place was crawling with pre-teens and teens who worshiped (and phone-filmed) the band, as well as their parents, who sat back, smiled and waited to provide rides home.
It was a crazy scene. The kids were so geeked, they would squeal loudly at anything, from Kyle of Big Country RV during the intros to Follese's well-rehearsed flirting on the big screens. Did I mention it was loud? It was deafening.
The band came out with energy to match, playing song after super-processed song from their “Whatever" album: “Beautiful Freaks," “Tonight Tonight" (with a detour into the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song), “Downtown Girl," “Radio." They also covered Katy Perry's “Teenage Dream," and when the entire arena sang “we'll be young forever!" it might've been the highlight of the night.
Overall, it was like listening to one of those stadium-rocking “Jock Jams" compilations, except all the songs were by the same band. And it was enjoyable, especially if you're like me and you can ignore lyrics pretty easily.
The show listed after about 30 minutes, though, with a slower number (“Why Don't You Love Me"), a new one (“I Wish") and a jokey song by Follese and guitarist Nash Overstreet about wanting to be more emo. It wasn't as funny or cute as they thought it was, but then, they weren't aiming at me. Then the band closed with more big-buzzsaw hits, including “Honestly" and “I Like It Like That," plus an encore rendition of “Tonight Tonight" without vocals, or rather, with the audience singing. Yes indeed, it was a massive Hot Chelle Rae karaoke singalong!
When I eat sugary cereal, I usually finish one bowl and think to myself “Mmm, that was good. I'll have another." And then inevitably I get halfway through the second bowl and feel a little sick and sluggish. That's what this concert was like: A sugar rush, followed by a sugar coma.
• The Counting Crows took the opposite tack, starting out sleepy and getting better as the show went along. After six songs Tuesday night, I was bored out of my skull and ready to bail, and that's the very moment when the show took off.
The Crows' catalog teems with midtempo, emotionally naked roots-rock tunes, and when you hear them all in a row, they sure do blur together. In Bend, we got “When I Dream of Michelangelo" and “New Frontier" and “Omaha" and “Mercy" and ... others. I don't know. At some point, my reaction became neither positive nor negative, but complete indifference.
The crowd seemed to feel the same way, at least until the opening riff of “Mr. Jones," which inspired cheers and a wild rush toward the stage. Little did they know frontman Adam Duritz would lazily talk-sing his way through it, as if he has sung it hundreds of times before and is tired of it. He has, and he probably is, but that doesn't mean we want to hear it in his delivery.
Things got better, though. The band suddenly awakened and ripped through a strong stretch of songs bookended by the harmony-heavy Southern rocker “Meet On the Ledge" and an exuberant “Rain King," and anchored by “Miami," “A Long December," and covers of Coby Brown's “Hospital" and Gram Parsons' “Return of the Grievous Angel." “Ledge" and “December" were the evening's high points.
That momentum was halted, however, by an interminable version of “Washington Square" to end the main set that sent me scrambling for the exit. Perhaps an encore of “Hanginaround" and Bob Dylan's “You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" ended things on a high note, but it was hard to tell from the footbridge and the lot where my car was parked.