It’s weird how life works. The one band that means so much to the book that your life becomes sometimes waxes and wanes in your attention, but when it’s back, it hits hard and fast.
In the case of Counting Crows, my interest waned once but when they came back, they never left. Heck, even revisiting the albums where I decided to let go, it became clearer that it was a question of not being the right age.
Not that I’m a spring chicken. I remember listening to August and everything after in a friend’s car back in 94 between classes, while the late October rains threatened to put Mexico City underwater. Why they never came to Mexico, I’ll never know, but I suspect the reason lays on our end, not theirs.
When I heard Counting Crows were coming to the United Kingdom (my current haunt), I had to do whatever it took to see them. And so I did.
Manchester Apollo is such a nice venue. An old theatre adapted to a 3,500 capacity venue, the décor still remains in some parts, a stark reminder of times past.
Once the lights went out, Adam Duritz came to the front and introduced the opening band. This is the first time I witness such a nice gesture and it started the evening on a pleasing note. Lucy Rose is such an introspective artist, with the music that she and her band creates akin to a nice sandalwood incense that rarefies the atmosphere. Details can get hazy, but that peace and tranquility feeling you get from even her most urgent songs becomes her trademark.
Another round of waiting and I notice that contrary to my expectations, the audience is not a bunch of thirty and fortysomethings reliving the 90s for an evening. No, the audience is varied and it’s not the case of parents dragging their brood to watch the band they probably heard while being manufactured (!), but groups of young people singing along to some of the more obscure songs (at least to the passing fan) that would be the setlist for the night.
‘Lean on me’ was blasting through the speakers when out comes Counting Crows, every single member looking happy and ready to rock those deep emotions. We start on a perfect note, with the pairing of ‘Sullivan Street’ and ‘Untitled (love song)’, a sultry pairing that will come handy for the next mix cd I give away.
‘Omaha’ has always been a powerful track, both by lyrics (“we go to the heart of matters / it’s the heart that matters most’) and the sheer catchiness of the track. I do get goose pimps when it resonates through the boiled egg that is the venue. ‘Mercy’ is a great track from their recent covers album and I’d dare to say I prefer the live rendition to the recorded one. This applies too to ‘Mercury’, perhaps the song from Recovering the Satellites that I listen to the least, but which managed to blow me away with its seedy live approach (all about that slide guitar and musical explosions).
Everyone in the band gets their chance on the spotlight. Charlie Gillingham’s accordion gets the limelight treatment for a while and he even gets to pose on top of the PA, Dan Vickrey’s bluesy guitar riffs shine through and David Immerglück’s piercing guitar rumbles through the air like a gust of wind.
There’s one rule to Counting Crows and its name is: jam it out. Songs get extended, experimented upon and transformed into new beasts. ‘Round here’ is reworked and I’m sure some lyrics got improvised on the spot, with a refrain of “come outside” becoming a chilling, poignant ending to the song. The moment Adam Duritz puts his head to the piano after the song is finished reminds me of when he just sat on the floor after belting out ‘Cowboys’ in 2009 at the Academy in Sheffield. Pure catharsis through art.
There’s some real treats for the hardcore fan, like ‘Friend of the Devil’ and ‘I wish I was a girl’ but a definite sing along is played : ‘A long december’. Adam Duritz got the crowd worked up to sing along and even graded the audience’s performance with a wink and an “a-ok!” hand gesture. The re-worked version of ‘Rain King’ finishes the gig on a perfect note.
And then comes the encore. ‘Washington Square’ is a lovely track from Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings (a brutal, visceral album) and ‘Hanginaround’ is one of their poppiest, happy-go-lucky tracks, a perfect reminder that although the band does sadness quite well, they can have fun. ‘Holiday in Spain’ is the swansong (damn this 11 pm curfew) and the band bids farewell while ‘California Dreamin’ ‘blasts through the venue’s speakers.
On the way back from the gig, we stop at a drive through and as we eat the greasy food on the parking lot, I’m suddenly back in ’94. There’s no rain on sight, but the feelings are as fresh as the first time I heard the band. They are veterans of the scene but played their hearts out like the youngest guns around. And that’s the best trick they could’ve pulled.
Words & Photos: Sam J. Valdés López