Counting Crows Live: Like A Visit From Old Friends

This band were the soundtrack to my formative years. Seeing them play a total fanboy’s set was proof of what a sensational act they still are.
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This band were the soundtrack to my formative years. Seeing them play a total fanboy’s set was proof of what a sensational act they still are.

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Most of the music in my house as a kid came from the kitchen, as that’s where our only CD player was – up until the joyous moment when I was bought my own little hi-fi for my room. But still, the kitchen rang out every morning with Van Morrison, Don McLean, The Band, Little Feat, Richie Havens. Some kids’ parents school them on Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Beatles...mine schooled me on this kinda stuff.

Then you get to that age where you start seeking out new music, music you can call your own. Generally that age is coincides with adolescence, and more often that not the music tends to be fairly introverted, a bit angsty, something you can shout and scream too as well as mope about too. Most of my friends found their niche with either My Chemical Romance or Bloc Party, but I found August And Everything After, the Counting Crows’ debut record, and an all-encompassing obsession began, taking me all the way through my teenage years, accompanying me to University, helping me start relationships, comforting me when relationships ended, culminating in last night when, after 4 years away from the UK, they played to a sell-out crowd at the Hammersmith Apollo on the back of a rather wonderful new live record Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow.

Crows are one of the only bands that can get away with releasing live records I think, because their show is so good, and so hard to predict. The last time I saw them they opened with a fairly obscure Fairport Convention track before launching into their 4 biggest singles from their first 4 records. Last night they played almost exclusively album tracks, ignoring their big hitters like Mr. Jones, Mrs Potter’s Lullabye and Hard Candy altogether. For a fanboy, this was an absolute dream, like the set had been curated by die-hards to create the sensation that you had your own private gig going on. Opening with Sullivan Street from the first record set the tone for the night, with Dan Vickrey wailing on a Telecaster and Adam Duritz routinely changing up the lyrics and the melody, each member of the band – who have been together for over 20 years now – so in sync with each other that they slip in and out of solos and verses like hands in gloves. Utterly effortless.

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I can’t think of anything more joyous than seeing musicians totally in command of their craft. Charlie Gillingham, sat at the back of stage flanked by a baby grand, Hammond organ and keyboard, jumped between all three with consummate ease, before rocking out on an accordion for Omaha. The front three behind Adam – Dan Vickrey, David Immergluck and David Bryson – swapped mandolins, guitars, electric guitars, pedal steels and banjos for fun.

It was Adam’s vocal that really starred throughout, something which should be celebrated no end. Think of some other big-chorus-toting rock bands who got big in a similar era – Goo Goo Dolls and Bon Jovi spring to mind – and, well, John Rzeznik can’t hit those big Iris notes anymore, and Jon Bon Jovi leaves the audience to take care of Livin’ On A Prayer. Adam’s voice sounds better than ever, quivering and fragile on the achingly beautiful Colourblind, melodious and conversational on the barnstorming  Hangin’ Around, big and sonorous on fan’s favourite Rain King, which segued momentarily into a wonderful cover of Elbow’s Lippy Kids.

I’ve always thought too much emphasis is placed on scenes in music, too much time spent on categorising where a band fits in the current fashion before listening to the actual music itself. Talking to friends and colleagues about Counting Crows it seems as if they’ve fallen out of fashion, but then again, The Gaslight Anthem used lyrics from Round Here – the opening track from August and Everything After - on one of their songs from The ’59 Sound, so who’s to say? All I know is this: 23 years after forming, having released 5 studio albums, 3 live albums, 1 covers album and 1 best of, with by-and-large the same lineup that started all of this, Counting Crows are still making and performing exceptionally classy rock and roll music. They ain’t giving up soon, they’ve still got a lot to give.