MANHATTAN, NY—It’s hard to imagine a band being any tighter, bolder, more emotional taught in one stage performance than Counting Crows tonight. It is hard to imagine the band could play any better, sound any better. From the moment they meander on stage, as if nonchalantly inviting you into a cramped rehearsal space, to the crescendo of the last blistering notes of the evening, this is a new high, a lofty plateau rarely achieved by a band over two-decades on.

Having attended several Counting Crows shows over the years in all manner of venue (the last time at the Apple store in SOHO, NYC in 2008) this was by far the best. Mere days before releasing its sixth studio album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, the band held a free concert at Irving Plaza; the line of fans rolling around a city block hours before show time. There was that great big town buzz, not unlike the old nights at the Fillmore East when no one knew what could happen.

It followed us inside, the crowd chirping, howling, rushing around to find a spot on the floor or in the rafters; an undulating stillness that comes from anticipation. This is what Counting Crows brings to the pre-show ritual, because there is no script, there is no way to tell what song will be played or just how it will be played—an organic, primal rock and roll funhouse.

Six players strong with its lead man, Adam Duritz, dressed in black with a Tribe Called Quest t-shirt, they are at their peak musically, doing what they do best: serving each song as if a novella—members switching instruments, adding accompaniment from mandolin, accordion, piano, Hammond organ and a bevy of electric guitars.

Mixing in new material, the highlights from past efforts include a wonderfully phrased version of “Sullivan St.” to open, a rousing sing-a-long in “Omaha,” and a show-stopping ride through the epic “Round Here” all from the first album. A pulsating version of “Miami” raises the roof wherein the entire crowd takes the final stanzas and wistful, “A Long December” bridge the dynamics that give Counting Crows’ sets their momentum.

Hardly breaking stride, the band eases into the encores with the new album’s opening number, “Palisades Park,” which Duritz told me days before was partly inspired by the late Lou Reed, as he notably emerges with a Transformer shirt and then wraps the evening up with “Holiday In Spain” from 2002’s Hard Candy.

Years of constant touring has sharpened one of the great live bands as never before.

This night was striking proof of it.

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