There was a time, around the time of the release of ‘August and Everything After’, when Counting Crows seemed just a track or two short of being a monstrously truly huge band. In blending delicate melodies, power chords and lyrics that nod to Keats in their ability to offer touching romance without drowning in cliché, there was a lot to love.
In music, though, timing is everything. Frontman Adam Duritz’ dissociative disorder contributed to slow album releases and a shift of the Zeitgeist while the band sat on the sidelines. This resulted in their ultimate role as a very charming and memorable band but a somewhat less than central player in 90s rootsy-rock folklore. For all their success – even for 20 million record sales – it’s hard not to feel things haven’t quite reached the stadium-level glory that once seemed to be their destiny.
So here we are, seeing the band play to a half-full Kilmainham six years after their last trip to Ireland, with many of the same issues that characterize the mis-steps of live album ‘Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow’ in full evidence.
The first few tracks – which feature hits Round Here, Mr Jones and Colorblind – are shaky enough to sound like a poor impersonation. Duritz’ vocal style sits somewhere between the album tracks and a freeform-jazz construction that’s being made up on the spot. He meanders his way through weird tonal forms of his hits, adding spoken word elements and strange key changes.
When it works, it’s pure genius; a live development that is lacking in so many acts, and pushes Counting Crows beyond that facsimile, phone-it-in feel pop-rock can have live. When it doesn’t – and that’s the more common outcome – it seems badly ad-libbed and comes out as a bit of a car crash. There are quite a few chronic, painful missteps.
The rest of the band, then, seem like something of a side show as Duritz battle with his vocal demons, and the best moment, largely, come when the frontman simply plays things straight.
The band’s well-touted cover of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi is a great example – bizarrely less live-edited than most of Counting Crows own material, but all the sharper and more heartfelt for it. Hanging Around is similarly on-point, and offers plenty of driving power-ballad optimism, while A Long December sees a piano wheeled from backstage, and is rich with emotion.
These moments are great: the band seem in their element. The crowd switches to full on sing-along mode – arms wave, eyes blur a touch and we’re transported straight back to the days of Cruel Intentions and that rarest of things, the beautifully-worded straightforward love song.
Accidentally In Love is another relatively un-edited outing, and it’s Disney-pop jauntiness offers something of a breath of fresh air. Glorious lengthy newbie Palisades Park suggests there’s better to come, too. The latter, in fact, is an unlikely highlight of the entire evening, being slow-building, knife-to-the-heart poetic and and an instant Crows classic.
Overall, though, things are decidedly patchy, and that’s fundamentally because of the vocals. It’s hard, sadly, to have faith in Duritz’s songs when he clearly has so little faith in their implicit entertainment value himself. For all it’s moments of delicate charm – and there are plenty – Counting Crows fall down on the basics: sloppy song reconstructions, bum notes and entire segments of the set falling flat.
There are many moments that frustrate as inspire; ultimately, this is a case of trying to change the world when doing the simple things right would have been fine all along.