Counting Crows + The Hold Steady + Blind Pilot @ Birmingham NIA – 13th May 2009

 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham

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.

Blind Pilot - NIA - 13/5/09Blind Pilot - NIA - 13/5/09

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.

The Hold Steady - NIA 13/5/09The Hold Steady - NIA 13/5/09

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.

The Hold Steady - NIA 13/5/09The Hold Steady - NIA 13/5/09

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.

 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham

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.

 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham

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.

 13.05.09 Counting Crows -NIA Birmingham

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.”


Hard Candy
Mrs Potter’s Lullaby
New Frontier
Rain King
Richard Manuel Is Dead
Mr Jones
On Almost Any Sunday Morning
Children in Bloom
Black and Blue
Daylight Fading
Washington Square

A Long December
Come Around

Review – Jack McCormick
Photos – Ursula Roxy Aitchison (Counting Crows) & Lee Allen (The Hold Steady & Blind Pilot)

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12 thoughts on “Counting Crows + The Hold Steady + Blind Pilot @ Birmingham NIA – 13th May 2009

  1. sadly, i was there and i have to say i LITERALLY disagree with every statement you make about CC. i saw them play in 2000 and it was a vastly different show. this performance left me feeling uncomfortable and unhappy, both in their performance, and for adam himself.

  2. Interesting view. I too went to this gig & was completely underwhelmed by it. The first thing that struck me was that the complete upper tier was closed off & it was still no where near to (1/2) capacity. Then, when they finally showed up on stage my mrs & I were undecided if he was drunk or stoned as he stumbled around the stage for the first 5 songs. To be fair he has coherant when he spoke to the crowd. It then plodded along for the next 60 minutes. By this time a good 10% of those who turned up had decided enough was enough & cleared off. We stuck around until the last of the encores by which time we were completely cheesed off.

    We’ve been to 30+ gigs of various artists & I would rank this gig in the bottom one! Worst atmosphere ever.

  3. Each to their own I guess! Thanks for the comments, I really enjoyed the show though and it’s one I’ve waited a very long time for. I liked the relaxed atmosphere and it was lovely just sitting back and relaxing, watching a quality band do their thing. I was (as I put in the review) also shocked by the small crowd too…I thought after such a long break a lot more people would have been itching to see them.

  4. I must say that having not seen them before i have nothing to compare the show with. Adam has had his problems and that was clear but i really enjoyed seeing them, if not the venue or atmosphere. I have wanted to see them for ages and they did not disappoint. My brother has seen them twice before and still enjoyed the show, albeit not probably as much as the last two occasions. It has not put me off seeing them again. i think they are a special band and look forward to them coming back.

  5. It’s not CC’s fault that the venues aren’t filled up, is it? Besides – did you attend the gig for the atmosphere or to watch one of the world’s most talented singer/songwriter’s perform perfection like no one else can? If you’re looking for atmosphere, go to the pub. You shouldn’t have the need to be surrounded by people to appreciate the music! Music is a personal thing that speaks to your soul.

    Peace, love and CC’s always x

  6. I think that the comments above are quite interesting, but I have to say that I completely disagree.

    Although the arena was empty, I loved the relaxed atmosphere and thought that the band did amazingly well considering the turn out of fans.

    I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that the band did not stick to a set way of doing things and think that it being a little rough around the edges made it a little more classy and personal.

    I felt like I knew the singer and that he cared about the fans/music, it was great to see him lead the band in songs, singing his own parts and bringing them back in again.

    I would go and see this band again at the drop of a hat, I would much prefer to go to another gig like this one than to watch something stiff and very structured.

    I think that this gig if viewed correctly was much more about the music and how it makes you feel than being about structure and formality.

  7. not to perpetuate this was-it-good/was-it-not.. just wanted to say in response to the other commenters:
    1) i go to gigs to see amazing performances that engage and inspire the crowd and i sadly felt that was lacking
    2) the venue was too large for them anyway – their tour manager should sort that out (they were more commercially successful in 2000, and filled the civic, but NIA would have been too big for them back then too)
    3) adam has well-documented.. ‘issues’ and what i had also initially thought was drunken stumbling could possibly be explained by that
    4) to explain my p.o.v. better you can see my review (and some other snaps) here – please note fused have had troubles with it and currently the end of the review is awol (it continues on after ‘So many of their songs hold intimacy.’)

  8. I can’t believe some of these comments. I don’t think Adam Duritz’ voice has ever sounded better. He was fantastic and the band are brilliant musicians. I saw them in 2004 and, if anything, they were even better this time round. The only thing that spoiled the evening for me was the mindless idiots shouting out titles of songs they wanted to hear when Adam was trying to talk intelligently to the audience. Just ill mannered.

  9. I have enjoyed some of their recorded work over the years, but I always felt their best moments were on their debut, which is a near perfect album. Judging by the responses to songs played from “August and Everything After” tonight, so did the crowd. I thought the atmposphere was great and they played well, totally professionally, but I have always had my suspicions around Adam Duritz’s supposed “I’m a messed up broken hearted guy on pills” routine. It smacks of middle class boy trying to be a little dangerous, and has the whiff of pretension around it. Listening to his ramblings about the pills he needs to take to get through a day was a bit like overhearing a student with creative hair talking about how wasted he got last night and… all was. Real tortured geniuses don’t tour the world and give flawless polished performances night after night. See Syd Barrett or Peter Green for further details. They sounded great, they played perfectly, and entertained well. They’re a polished Americian rock n roll band and they do what they do very well. The Hold Steady were fantastic as well, and it was a superb evening of entertainment. Let’s just take it for what it was, not for what it may have been trying to be.

  10. I was at this gig and thought it was absolutely incredible! I wasnt even particularily put off by the small crowd size. I’ve been see CC before, in London, and although the atmosphere was more lively then – the music was flawless and beautiful both times.
    I cant wait for them to tour again!

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