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April 19, 2014

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Counting Crows frontman on live albums, cover songs and crazy concerts at Mandalay Bay Beach

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Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com

Singer Adam Duritz and his band Counting Crows headline with Augustana at Red Rock Resort on July 24, 2009.

If you go

The Counting Crows and The Wallflowers perform at Mandalay Bay Beach on Thursday, July 20. The concert starts at 9 p.m. Tickets start at $47.50.

Mandalay Bay Beach marks a night for the '90s next month with a concert featuring the Counting Crows and special guests The Wallflowers. What's more, ticket purchasers for this tour, which kicked off last weekend, also get a free download of Counting Crows’ latest live album, “Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow.” Lead singer/songwriter Adam Duritz talked to the Sun about the album, the band’s recording philosophy and their reputation as a live band. The article has been edited for brevity and clarity:

Sharing your recordings with fans in creative ways, like the download giveaway, is a little bit of a tradition with the band. Tell us more about that.

I kind of feel like nowadays there’s not a real set brilliant scheme, if there ever was, for how to sell your music. So you’ve kind of got to try things. And the nice thing about being (on an independent label) is that we can do that.

We made this live record, and for Australia it was a bonus disc on our last album, “Underwater Sunshine.” In Britain, they wanted to make it a separate live disc and sell it on our last tour, so we did that there. Then someone suggested that in America we try this thing where we give it away with tickets and said OK. It’s funny because in all three territories we did something different. I’m not sure anyone knows for sure that doing one was any better or worse than the other.

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Adam Duritz and his Counting Crows perform during the 2012 Bite of Las Vegas at Desert Breeze State Park on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012.

Counting Crows has a long list of live albums, bootlegs and other recordings out there. What goes into the process of making a live record for you? Do you perform differently when you know a show is being recorded?

We’ve always recorded everything, so that when we want to (make a record), we can do it. We’ve recorded pretty much every show we’ve ever played, every soundcheck, so it’s no pressure. We improvise a lot and do a lot of different stuff when we play, so we kind of want to always have that option.

This is the first time we’ve ever compiled a live album from multiple shows. We’ve almost always done them from one single show. This is one of the best years of touring we’ve ever had.

Why was it such a great year of touring for the band?

We’ve always been a really good live band, but we got great last year. We took a big jump upward. I think it had something to do with recording the covers record (“Underwater Sunshine”). Playing a bunch of material that was stretching the boundaries of what we had done opened the band up in some ways. Because we started playing gigs after that and it was evident, almost immediately, that we had gotten really good. All of a sudden the gigs were just better. And it was consistent.

How else has recording an album of covers affected the band? Do you see that impacting any original songwriting you’ll do in the future?

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Charlie Gillingham, David Immergluck, Millard Powers, Jim Bogios, David Bryson, Adam Duritz and Dan Vickrey of the Counting Crows arrive at the Epicurean Charitable Foundation's 11th Annual M.E.N.U.S. scholarship fundraiser at the M Resort on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012.

We’re making a record in the fall, and I don’t know it’s going to affect the songwriting. I don’t think it’s always very apparent or obvious when things influence you. Sometimes you see it later.

What occurred to me after making the covers record is that it’s very limiting to spend your entire career working with one songwriter, and in our case that songwriter is me. I really wouldn’t have thought of it that way until we got down and made a whole record with all different writers. It was really great and liberating and expanded what we think about as musicians.

What goes into making a great cover song?

Just two things, really. It’s got to be a great song and you’ve got find your own way into it. We didn’t intentionally make the most obscure covers album ever, nor were we trying to make an album of well-known songs. The criteria was that it has to be a great song and you have to find a way in.

What’s your process for interpreting a cover song, for “finding a way in”?

You have to think of an idea for how you want to do it (going into it). We were messing around with “Like Teenage Gravity,” a Kasey Anderson song, and we could not find a good way into it. And I realized I’d made a mistake, because what I loved about the song was how sparse it is. It’s an acoustic guitar, a piano and a vocal. But of course that part of it was going to get violated the moment seven of us started playing it. So then it was, what’s going to make it good now? For a while it really sucked and then I had an idea about starting off the piece in a really acid-electric way, then having everything drop out for the acoustic instruments and that worked pretty well. Sometimes you just have to run with an idea.

As a band that’s so about live shows, what do you enjoy -- or not enjoy -- about playing Las Vegas?

I’m not always crazy about casino shows, because you’re sort of there to keep people entertained while they gamble, but the Mandalay Bay place is great. That pool is a hysterical place to play; it’s really fun. Probably my favorite place to play in Vegas. Vegas tends to be better than anyplace else in terms of casinos, because people are little bit looser there. It’s a little more fun. I tend to like it. But especially Mandalay Bay. Seeing a show in a unique kind of atmosphere like that is a really good thing, it puts people out of what they’re used to.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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