Counting Crows back with quirky covers 

click to enlarge Counting Crows - COURTESY PHOTO
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  • Counting Crows

It’s been an incredibly busy year for Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz.

He presented his first (co-written) stage drama, “Black Sun” at the Ojai Playwrights Conference. He launched his own vanity label, Tyrannosaurus Records. He helped produce, and co-stars in, the twisted new film comedy “Freeloaders” with the Broken Lizard troupe.

He put together a young-talent showcase for South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, at which the Counting Crows will play, backing its latest 15-track covers album, “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation).” The band debuts the material at two intimate club gigs in San Francisco this week.

What makes the tasks even more Herculean is that Duritz — who suffers from a depersonalization disorder that sometimes can turn an ordinary day into the worst acid trip — did everything cold turkey, off most of his mind-numbing medication.

“After being pretty much wrapped in gauze for a number of years with all these meds, it’s a very raw world for me now, very different,” says the dreadlocked singer, 47, who was incorrectly given bipolar prescriptions. “So starting last May, I got off of seven different medications, and it turned into six or seven months of horrific drug withdrawals, both physical and mental. Tough going while I was making a record and working on a play — it was like being stoned for an entire year.”

Duritz quit his prescriptions gradually, whittling them down to only two truly necessary ones.

But the pain of his withdrawal is audible on certain “Underwater” songs, most notably Coby Brown’s “Hospital.”

“Strangely enough, there’s a line in there about these ‘pills I shouldn’t take,’ and I was going through this twitching, shaking thing while we were recording,” Duritz says. “And you can hear me actually vibrating on that one song — I just couldn’t stop shaking.”

The Counting Crows are no strangers to covers — their hip-hop take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” was a hit. They announced their recent departure from Geffen with a free download of their live rendition of Madonna’s “Borderline,” and Duritz recently issued his own covers EP, “All My Bloody Valentines.”

But for “Underwater,” Duritz unearthed obscurities from Dawes, Travis, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Fairport Convention.

“I didn’t realize it until we were almost done,” he says. “Except for maybe Pure Prairie League’s ‘Amie’ or The Faces’ ‘Ooh La La,’ I’ve certainly picked a bunch of songs that no one’s ever heard before!”

Ultimately, Duritz is simply happy to be clear-headed. “A hundred years ago, they just locked people up forever in my situation,” he says. “So I’m really lucky to be a part of modern medicine.”

If you go

Counting Crows
Where:
Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $45
Contact: (415) 522-0333, www.slimstickets.com

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $45
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.gamhtickets.com

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Tom Lanham

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