Counting Crows – [Album]

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Here's a quick side of editorial before we get to the heart of this thing. The recent trend among touring bands with a sizable catalogue and history has been to host concerts where they'll play a classic album from front to back and top to bottom – essentially playing human jukebox for fans. Some fans seem to enjoy it, but there are critics (including me) who just don't understand; part of the attraction for a live show (for me, and for no small number of other people) is to see a show – where attendees get a piece of the band's mindset as they attempt to show the progression they've made through hits and the band favorites in their set coupled with new material. Not only that but the uniqueness of any given show is appealing; any given night of a tour might be completely different from both the next and last, and that spectacle is special. Playing an album front to back diminishes that “specialness” somehow. If Pearl Jam was to do shows where they performed Ten in its entirety because fans demanded it, for example, would those fans also expect Eddie Vedder to crawl up to and through the rafters of a venue every night during “Even Flow” and then fall into the audience? That wouldn't be special, that would be scripted like any show on television and how much fun could the band possibly have trying to competently recreate the same magic on a nightly basis?

So why have bands started doing these front-to-back re-enactments of old times? I asked Lou Barlow about it once during a Sebadoh tour, and he told me it had everything to do with two things: “demand” and “dollars.” According to Barlow, concert promoters offer a staggering amount of money for these front-to-back performances, and that's often why bands agree to do them; it's an easy, potentially lucrative paycheck.

Keeping the 'easy money' theory in mind, it's also easy to understand why Counting Crows would voluntarily recreate their August and Everything After album. Given that it's been about ten years since the band had a hit, some might say that a top-to-bottom show – or even a whole tour that way – was inevitable, but the band has gone one step further and decided to release a CD commemorating the event too.

From the opening of “Round Here,” Counting Crows fall into the nostalgia trip perfectly as singer Adam Duritz begins gibbering to generate urgency just as he used to back in 1993 with his cracked, “hopeless, romantic” vocalese both apparent and untouched by time. Those who remember the time of August and Everything After's original release will be pulled back to it and find it easy to inhabit again. Here, Duritz' voice still holds the same magic it did eighteen years ago and, for the willing (like the crowd who was in attendance who is already hanging on every word by the end of “Raining In Baltimore”), this presentation is just fantastically cool.

With the legs already installed under the set and with the crowd clearly already into the show (the call-and-response vocals between Duritz and the crowd during “Omaha” is a testament to that) the going gets really easy for the band; so much so that the singer can't stop himself from ad libbing a bit through the hits (“Mr. Jones,” “Rain King” and “Sullivan Street”) to add a little new magic while the band beefs up each song's performance and adds a little bit of fire and excitement to songs which have long-since been hammered flat. In that regard (beyond the hits), particular standouts include “Perfect Blue Buildings,” “Sullivan Street” and “A Murder of One” as they each see the band going to great lengths to emphasize their performance here and illustrate that they're as potentially cathartic and captivating as the hits. Those songs really end up sparkling in the added limelight.

Now, for all the naysayers, “Does August and Everything After – Live At Town Hall singlehandedly legitimize the crass commercialism of front-to-back, top-to-bottom, album-in-its-entirety sets?” This writer's first instinct is to say, “Of course not,” but there's also no way to deny the care which was obviously put into this show. As often as Counting Crows may have performed some of the songs from their breakthrough album before, it's easy to hear that they're gone out of their way to make sure listeners who bought a ticket at the time and a CD now get all they paid for; nothing is slopped off or feels phoned in here, Counting Crows is actually working for it. That effort and work put in will win over even the hardest-boiled of critics.



August and Everything After – Live At Town Hall
will be released on August 29, 2011 via Eagle Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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