“Do they sell drinks here? They do? Have a drink. Relax. I’ll take care of the rest of this shit up here.”
If there was a movie of my life, I’d ask the Counting Crows to write the soundtrack. I know every lyric, and most of the chords. They’ve joined me sitting on front steps the world over. Goodnight Elizabeth, Round Here and Long December got me – and a bunch of other homesick, lovesick Kiwis – through London late 90s nights and on to good lives. I played Hard Candy so much my car CD player broke. When This Desert Life turned up in a drawer in Spain, it felt like a sign. Now my kids know the words too.
The Counting Crows return to the Civic and it’s a mixed crowd: misfits and housewives, ad-men, bikers and fashionistas. Maybe it’s my melancholy mood – or maybe it’s that winter has arrived; or maybe we’re just getting older and it’s a reminder that those days are twenty years ago – but tonight feels nostalgic and sublimely emotional. Duritz, like most of us, has lost his youthful swagger, but by growing up he’s gained the ability to communicate more intensely with his audience. It’s as if we are witnessing a heartfelt conversation, or a meandering story. His blue-grey jeans bag around the knees, and his one nod to fashion is changing out of ‘The Last Waltz’ t-shirt and into a Bowie one for the encore.
They open with a dark stage and Lean on Me blasting through the speakers. The crowd goes crazy when the band appears and is rewarded with an incredible, reworked version of Round Here from their first studio album ‘August and Everything After’. For those who have been to a Counting Crows concert before you’ll know they don’t do ‘em straight. Don’t expect to hear the album version. This version of Round Here is a masterpiece of narrative, Duritz adding all he’s learned about leaving in the twenty-six years since he wrote it:
“You remember all your yesterdays. Tomorrows seem so far away. So climb out your window, don’t tell your mother, climb out your window and I’ll see you tomorrow. Come outside she says, come away with me. Come outside. Don’t tell your mother. I won’t tell my father.”
At this point I whispered into Jeremy’s ear “he’s a bit nuts”. And he is a bit, apparently. Duritz has something called ‘dissociative disorder’ which, according to his brilliant 2008 essay in Men’s Health, “makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place.” This brave disclosure helps us decode Duritz’s impulsive returning to themes – remembering and forgetting, and the markers of time passing: seasons, days, months and places – in his lyrics.
“Come outside. Before the world gets any colder, and you and I get too much older. ‘Come outside,’ she said. ‘Come outside,’ she said. Climb out your window.”
They performed an excellent cover of 90s Scottish alt-rock band, Teenage Fanclub’s Start Again which showcases the band’s tight harmonies, amazing sound engineering and obvious love for each other.
Miami, too, has a beautiful new verse:
“If you knew everything, if you could see everything before it happens, then what would you do? If you knew that the love that you threw away, that meant everything to her, if you knew you could ruin her, then would you do?”
And, just like at 2003’s Auckland concert, one of the best moments was during Miami. Duritz, lit by a single spotlight, holds out his cupped hands and urges:
“Make a circle in the sand. Make a halo with your hands. I’ll make a place for you to land”
It was disappointing to hear pre-recorded cello in this and in Colorblind. I bet a Kiwi cellist would have loved the opportunity to make an appearance. It would have been a poignant moment.
When he addresses the crowd for the first time twelve songs in he apologises for cancelling his 2013 show and tells us about Kiwi friends in New York:
“They gave me shit for getting sick, so I didn’t risk it, didn’t go to South by South West (festival). I took a picture of you guys to send them and said ‘I’m in Auckland and you’re not’. It didn’t send. It took me half the concert to get the picture off. I couldn’t get it right. But we’re here, right? And that’s getting it right.”
Other highlights are the crowd getting on their feet to Mr. Jones; Dave Bryson’s guitaring in Daylight Fading; the marching band drum beat set against agonizing lyrics about staying or leaving in Possibility Days; the beautiful harmonies of Out of Ocean Tides; and the story of leaving and coming home in Washington. The encore starts with a hefty rendition of Palisades Park, coming full circle back to the “climb out your window” refrain from Round Here. Rain King follows and the concert closes with one of my favs from ‘Hard Candy’, Holiday in Spain and finally, a crowed sing-a-long to California Dreamin’ (the Mamas and the Papas).
If I have any regrets it is that 2002’s album ‘Hard Candy’ seems underrepresented. I know you can’t please everyone when you’ve got this much material, but I was dying to hear the opening guitars of Hard Candy to take me back to 2002, cruising the streets of Ponsonby in my old rag-top. Tonight’s is a heartfelt, amazing performance. “We’ll be back,” said Duritz as he left the stage. We’ll hold you to it. P.S. I can’t bring my self to review the opening act. Dreadful. I wish I had “thicker skin” to cope. Set List:
- Round Here – August and Everything After, 1993
- Scarecrow – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- Robinson In His Cadillac Dream – Recovering the Satellites, 1996
- Elvis Went To Hollywood – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- Jones – August and Everything After, 1993
- Colorblind – Recovering the Satellites, 1996
- Start Again – Underwater Sunshine, 2012
- Omaha – August and Everything After, 1993
- Possibility Days – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- Daylight Fading – Recovering the Satellites, 1996
- Cover Up The Sun – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- Miami – Hard Candy, 2002
- God Of Ocean Tides – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- Le Ballet D’Or – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, 2008
- Washington Square – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, 2008
- Return Of The Grievous Angel – Underwater Sunshine, 2012
- Earthquake Driver – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014
- A Long December – Recovering the Satellites, 1996
- Hanginaround – This Desert Life, 1999
- Palisades Park – Somewhere Under Wonderland, 2014 7
- Rain King – August and Everything After, 1993
- Holiday in Spain – Hard Candy, 2002