Counting Crows find humor

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Adam Duritz has made a career out of writing sad songs.

In his two-plus decades as frontman for Counting Crows, he has covered topics that range from loneliness to denial to the trials of stardom, all while battling a form of dissociative order that doubles as a lyrical inspiration.

Counting Crows
With: Toad The Wet Sprocket.
Where: Stage AE, North Shore.
When: Doors at 6 p.m. Friday; $37.50-$40;

Most importantly, his songs have always been about him. But when Counting Crows finished recording its forthcoming album, "Somewhere Under Wonderland," Mr. Duritz thought his new songs had steered away from that course. They still had meaning but allowed for a certain humor that the singer thought made them less personal -- that is, until a conversation with a close friend made him change his mind.

"I was talking to a really good friend of mine, and he was over listening to them, and he said he thought they were more personal," Mr. Duritz recalls. "He said, 'I feel like you've been writing a long epic tragedy for 20 years now, but that's not all you are. As someone who knows you as your friend, you don't walk around moping all day. This record really captures that.' "

Mr. Duritz will put those songs on display Friday when Counting Crows perform at Stage AE. While no song is a guarantee -- the band switches up its set list at every show -- fans who pay attention might be treated to a side of the singer they've never seen.

You might, for example, hear a track in which Mr. Duritz compares an alien invasion to the idea of Elvis Presley working in movies, an association he says is a commentary on the way people loosely use the phrase "decline of civilization."

"Which is sort of ridiculous, but it's also sort of a comment on the whining we do in our civilization," he explains. "Part of being crazy is making dumb associations like Elvis causing alien invasions. ... I just don't think I would've allowed myself to write that way before."

While the fall release of "Somewhere Under Wonderland" will mark the band's first album of original material since 2008's "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings," it was a project in-between that Mr. Duritz says has helped the band reach new heights.

Three years ago, he was writing a play, which impeded him from writing new music. Instead, the band decided to put out a covers album, 2012's "Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)," which Mr. Duritz says was like "collaborating with people who weren't there."

"Something happened when we made that record. The band was just immeasurably better after," he says. "We were always a good band, but we got great. We were looser and tighter at the same time. We were much freer in our playing."

When the time came to begin writing new music again, Mr. Duritz already felt as if he had had enough of writing about tragedy. It's one thing to expect a certain quality of music from an artist, he says, but another thing entirely to expect a certain narrative. He just wasn't quite sure where he should go.

The first song written for the album was "God of Ocean Tides," one that the singer began writing on a bus ride from Nashville across Tennessee. It began with a verse of what he calls "nonsense words," then within 15 minutes turned into an actual first verse that he let sit on his phone for some time before turning it into its final state, a song about the "limbo" of being on tour and leaving things behind.

The band has already performed that song live, along with all of the tracks off "Somewhere Under Wonderland." So far, Mr. Duritz says, the audience's reaction has exceeded his expectations -- Crowds have even begun singing along to the unreleased tracks.

The band has even gone so far as to perform a song off the new album as the opener to its encore. Even for this particular song, which Mr. Duritz calls "the best he's ever written," the reaction has come as a surprise.

"We've been opening the encore with it every single night, and they lost their [expletive] every single night," he says. "That's a pretty risky place to put a new song."

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