Counting Crows @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – Friday 19th April 2013


It is odd that throughout 1993 and ’94 Counting Crows’ debut album was never off my stereo, only for circumstances to intervene, and even hearing Duritz’s voice would bring back painful memories… “3500 miles away and what would you change if you could?” still echoing in my ears. For almost fifteen years I chose not to listen to them at all. That album, ‘August and Everything After’ is proof that music can get under your skin; for good and bad.


Four years ago Counting Crows played the NIA; a venue too big for them. I chose to stay away. This time, to right that wrong they play the Academy: an act of total over-compensation, as it is packed from the sticky floor to the sticky ceiling to the sticky walls. You cannot move in there, even in the areas not directly in front of the stage. Their tour organiser really needs to look at Birmingham more closely next time: there are better, more suitable venues in the Midlands – venues that are audience friendly, with better sound, and beer that isn’t £4.50 a pint.


An a cappella version of Bill Withers’ ‘Lean On Me’ starts the show as the lights go down, whipping up the crowd into an orgasm of anticipation, before finally opening proper with the instantly recognisable guitar intro to ‘Round Here’. As the dreadlocked Duritz takes his place centre-stage I try and control my enthusiasm at finally seeing a hero in the flesh. This feeling is quickly abated as it is altogether plainly obvious he is simply a professional musician doing his job. It is strange to say that I wanted Adam (the personification of all the anguish and pain I had felt through Counting Crows’ music) to be more than the man he is… I wanted him to be… well… just more. This is clearly my failing and not his. Adam Duritz is one of the world’s finest songwriters and most accomplished singers… I wanted blood and tears, and got just a faultless performance.

I suppose my reservations stem from having massively high expectations and preconceptions. My wish was to find an original, idiosyncratic performance, and tonight was polished, well-rehearsed and, as much as it pains me to say, frankly, uninspiring. As great and tight as the musicians are, their stage antics are so predictable and out of date I couldn’t tell if they were being ironic: all the old tricks were hauled out: standing on the monitor speakers; running from stage right to stage left to work both sides of the audience; not singing lines and holding the mike to the crowd; guitar solo breaks in which the guitarist points at the audience; arm waving; air punching; Adam’s attempt to mime his lyrics… it was like watching “How to be a rockstar during the 70’s” in the flesh. To many people who have witnessed only a handful of gigs, this is probably exciting and memorable and they feel a connection with the band; to me it is embarrassingly clichéd. Like when bands say ‘Good evening Birmingham’, or, ‘We thought that Antwerp rocked last night, but you guys blow them away’… and then say the same thing the next night changing the relevant city names.


Despite all my reservations I try throughout not to hate this show; but everything conspires against me. The venue is horrible; the sound is so terrible (I miss much of the in-between song banter from Adam); the crowd insists on talking through the quiet songs; and worst of all is the 10pm curfew. By the end of the show Adam has stopped messing about with his in-ear monitoring system and his voice is soaring, so to get just the exquisite ‘Washington Square’, ‘Hard Candy’ and life-affirming ‘Holiday in Spain’ as closers leaves me wanting more. And that little piece of more I want is ‘Mr Jones’. But no; no Mr Jones. The lights come on and I wait and wait, but Mr Jones never comes. Apparently the set list is different every night, so it is pot luck whether you get your favourites or not. Even more infuriating is learning they play ‘Mrs Potter’s Lullaby’, ‘Hangin Around’ and ‘Perfect Blue Buildings’ the next day in Bristol. I feel like I need to get my money back at the door, quoting from the highlight of the night ‘Omaha’, with its exceptional accordion as a centre-piece. However, that song and its performance is really worth the entry fee alone. ‘Rain King’ as well is exceptional having quickly got used to the rearranged chorus featuring a dynamic use of mainly vocals and accented first beat.


As you can tell, my feelings about the night are all over the place. I am confused. I love it and I hate it. It is everything I wanted, but never really satisfies. It’s not them; it’s me. I need time and space; and Adam, I want my Bowie t-shirt back.

Review by Alan Neilson

Photographs by Steve Gerrard

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