When Counting Crows last year announced their new album was going to be a covers record, there was a slight sense of disappointment, because their new releases of original music had become so sporadic. However, Underwater Sunshine was a covers album for all the right reasons and this show highlighted all of them expertly.
Across the night they played five covers (six if you count Mercy) out of fifteen, which is hardly an overwhelming number but still notable in the context of a gig. Even more notable was how smoothly they fitted into the set.
All of the songs are by bands that either inspired Counting Crows or by lesser-known acts that they like and want to offer some reflected glow to bask in, like the wonderful Kasey Anderson, whose Like Teenage Gravity was a highlight with its raucous instrumental coda.
The likes of Friend Of The Devil by Grateful Dead and Look At Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch were also fantastic, with the latter played by Adam Duritz on the piano, seguing into A Long December, the first Crows song I ever heard and still a real favourite. So I really enjoyed that pairing.
What helped the covers fit in so well was partly the quality of the original material and the performances on the night but also the stage atmosphere, which right from the off was relaxed, warm and authentic. All seven of the group seemed to be having a blast and seemed to genuinely be getting on very well, creating a nice ambiance.
Most of that comes from the quiet but affable Duritz, who is a subtly mesmeric performer who starts the night shuffling on stage with his hands in his pocket and ends it stood on the speakers leading the crowd in singing along to California Dreamin’ by the Mamas And Papas. His banter with Dan Vickrey on A Long December was delightful and felt inclusive and spontaneous, something that isn’t often the case.
Of course, the covers were all met with a positive reaction, but the crowd were still there to hear their old favourites and the likes of opener Sullivan Street (a song I’ve always wanted to hear live), Omaha, Rain King and Hanginaround were all rapturously received. The various talented and versatile musicians in the group spent the night playing a variety of instruments, from a Hammond organ to a steel guitar to an accordian, all of which helped create a very rich sound, which their vocal harmonies were also surprisingly impressive.
Tracks from Hard Candy like Miami, Black And Blue and If I Could All My Love were most notable in the way they managed to recreate the depth of instrumentation from that very musically textured album, but the undoubted highlight of the night was all about Duritz. Round Here might be 20 years old this year (!) but it’s probably rare sounded as fresh as the version the band play in concert at the moment.
Duritz is well known for re-writing songs for performing live, and Round Here has a few different versions, but we got the one featured in the new live album Echoes From The Outlaw Roadshow and it was absolutely spine-tingling stuff, taking an already perfect song in whole new directions before bringing it all back home in a way that knocks your socks off by the end. Very special stuff.
But it all was, really, and they could have played twice as long without it getting dull, but the encore rounded things off really well, with the rowdy Hanginaround sandwiched between the wistful Washington Square (Duritz singing about the home he’ll be returning to this weekend at the end of the tour) and the lovely Holiday In Spain. It was a delightful end to a great evening of really good songs by various artists performed by a group who are at the top of their talents and a live band you really need to see at least once. The good news is they promised to come back…