Let me just start by saying that if you ever get the chance to see Counting Crows live, no matter what the cost, do it. Anybody reading this hoping to see me write that it was ‘more like counting sheep’ will be disappointed.
The NIA is, surprisingly, sparsely populated. There are hundreds of empty seats and the amount of space allocated for standing has been grossly over-estimated by the organisers. However, every band playing this evening makes the best of a bad situation. I just wish that this was a smaller venue; the atmosphere would have been even better than it is tonight.
First support act of the night Blind Pilot are a contemporary folk four-piece from America, playing in the UK for the first time. Along with the typical vocals/guitar/drums combination they use a variety of instruments, including a double-bass, ukulele and banjo, which all lend something to their beautiful sound. It’s been a long time since I have seen a support act I would pay money to see but here they are — Blind Pilot are gorgeous. Soft vocals are complemented by subtle harmonies and, at times, almost tribal drums. There is no doubt that when I get home I will buy their album. In the words of a friend of mine, “they sound like the Shins, just not as boring.” I wish I could write more about them and hope they come back to England so that I get the chance. Have a listen to their song ‘One Red Thread’ and you’ll see what I mean.
Next up are The Hold Steady. A little better known than Blind Pilot, their performance sees several people jumping around and singing along. The five-piece are probably best described as a heavier, rockier version of Bob Dylan, with every song telling a story and the vocals more like poetry than singing. Beyond this, The Hold Steady can only be described as very odd. Lead singer Craig Finn has a distinctly punk style, wearing his guitar low and at one point spitting on the stage. This is stark contrast to keyboard player Franz Nicolay, sporting a white suit, drinking wine from the bottle and dancing more like he’s rocking around the clock.
Although the music isn’t really my thing some of the lyrics are great and the energy given off by the band is infectious. It’s so good to see a band enjoying their music and you can tell every member really believes in what they’re doing.
Counting Crows take to the stage at just past 9pm to euphoric applause. Everyone in the venue is anxious to see the band after their six year hiatus — a break in no small part due to lead vocalist Adam Duritz’s much-publicised mental health problems. Any issues are certainly not on show tonight, though, as dreadlocked Duritz leads a performance master-class.
Duritz’s voice is absolutely beautiful live — some might even say better than it is on CD. Such emotion fills every lyric he sings and tonight he is clearly enjoying himself. He has self-confessed in the past that he only really feels himself when he’s singing and it shows. He gestures to the crowd with every verse and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody truly feel music like he does. It’s hard to tell if he’s sober, with the front-man joking that he is ‘so stoned’, although his questionable state is of no detriment to his awe-inspiring routine. Duritz prides himself on the fact that he never sings a song the same way twice and this is one of the best things about the show; alternative renditions of ‘Rain King’ and ‘A Long December’ are particularly stunning, with large sections of what appears to be completely improvised material.
Aside from the music, Duritz also has some great banter with the crowd. One such skit involves the talismanic vocalist poking fun at people requesting songs: “we’re gonna take requests tonight…but only because that guy just requested the exact song we’re about to play.”
As for the six remaining members of the band, you can tell they’ve been doing this for years. This whole thing is completely effortless for them. That’s not to say they don’t enjoy it; the guitarists are standing on speakers and milking the crowd at every opportunity. They are as tight as humanly possible and mix things up with the presence of an accordion and, in some songs, what looks like a lute.
The backdrop is smothered in tiny LEDs which give the illusion of a starry night sky behind the band. The lights flow from blue and green to purple and back again, changing accordingly with the mood of each song.
Towards the end of the set Duritz’s microphone starts cutting out and has to be replaced several times. Far from throwing him off, his composure is such that he somehow manages to work these changes into the song, providing further assurance that he is one of the most gifted and confident singers in the business.
Counting Crows throw in some stunning tracks including the likes of ‘Colorblind’ and ‘Washington Square’ to bring the tone down a notch, before launching into songs such as ‘Hard Candy’ and ‘Come Around’ to get everyone on their feet and dancing. There are a few classics that are missed out of the set but I can still only describe the gig as nothing short of absolutely perfect. I have been privileged enough to have been to a lot of shows in my short life and this might just have surpassed them all. There is no way that anybody in the NIA tonight can have a frown on their face and Duritz leaves the stage with words thousands will be delighted to hear: “we will be back.”
Mrs Potter’s Lullaby
Richard Manuel Is Dead
On Almost Any Sunday Morning
Children in Bloom
Black and Blue
A Long December