Counting Crows deliver a masterclass in musicianship but it’s frontman Adam Duritz who steals the show, Getintothis’ Mike Torpey reflects on a special night in Manchester.
You can never be sure what you’re going to get from Counting Crows – only that it will be worth the wait.
And in Adam Duritz the American rockers have a dreadlocked chameleon of a frontman.
One moment he looks worn out, lethargic and shambles about the stage hand in pocket like he’s just crawled out of bed.
Next he’s working the audience like a circus ringmaster or Shakespearean actor.
Who else for instance would round off a show with the customary three encores, then conduct the crowd in a singalong to a Mamas and the Papas record.
That’s about as close as anyone’s going to get to California on a nippy night in Manchester, one during which the Crows showed why they have enjoyed near unbroken success for two decades.
The line-up of Duritz on vocals, Dan Vickrey (lead guitar), David Immergluck (guitar/mandolin), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards/accordion), David Bryson (guitar), Millard Powers (bass) and Jim Bogios (drums) are not only flawless musicians but they feed off each other in an almost telepathic way.
Entering the 02 Apollo stage to the sound of Bill Withers‘ Lean On Me, the band resisted the temptation to rock the boots off 3,500 fans from the outset.
Instead they began weaving a two-hour set that mixed up newer tunes, covers and fans’ favourites with a hark back to the early days and the emotive Sullivan Street, a song in which there’s no place to hide.
Love Song (Untitled), I Wish I Was A Girl and Hospital, all included on the newly released live album Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow from last year’s US Tour, paved the way for the first of the Crows classics in Omaha with its trademark accordion swirls.
Mercy, an epic version of Miami from the Hard Candy album and a Stonesy-sounding rendition of Mercury showcased the band’s breadth before the acoustic collective of Grateful Dead‘s Friend of the Devil.
Spinning out songs, slowing them down, changing the lyrics and adding extra bits are all part of the deal with Duritz and unlike other unpredictables – Morrison can be morose, Dylan disinterested – he seems to deliver every time.
None more so than on one of the show’s highlights Round Here, which started with a psychedelic maelstrom and saw Duritz bring to life those mentally disturbed images that make the song so haunting.
Switching to piano he changed the mood with Look At Miss Ohio before delivering a spectacular version of A Long December.
Power play from the Telecaster of Dan Vickrey on Like Teenage Gravity and a beautifully slowed down Rain King featuring mandolin from David Immergluck rounded off the main performance.
Duritz says there’s never any pre-planned setlist of songs, nor any sacred must-plays. He just texts everyone from musicians to crew to support act and finds out how they’re feeling, what they fancy, and takes it from there.
Predicting the encores then was futile, but few would have swopped the three on the Apollo list – Washington Square, Hanginaround and Holiday In Spain, possibly their best song anyway.
What’s so positive about Counting Crows though is that in the four years since they last toured the UK, and performed at the Liverpool Echo Arena, they have honed and fine-tuned their act appreciably.
Definitely worth catching next time.