Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn, NY
July 17th, 2012
Concert Review: Counting Crows at Williamsburg Park
It’s always difficult for bands to satisfy both the hardcore fan and the casual fan when it comes to their live performances. The hardcore fans want to hear the rarities- some crazy live versions that they can record and trade with other fans. The casual fan meanwhile, wants to hear the hits. On Tuesday night, Counting Crows rocked the inaugural show at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Park with a show that would satisfy both groups equally.
Adam Duritz, the lead singer and songwriter for Counting Crows, has been one of the most dynamic lyricists of the past 20 years. Regardless of the mood you might find yourself in- depressed, head over heels in love, hungover, missing home, excited to see a new place- there is a Crows song that seems to capture the essence of that feeling. Over the last few years Counting Crows has put together a lineup of bands which they have recognized as up and comers (Kasey Anderson & the Honkies, Field Report, We Are Augustines) and have toured around in a traveling roadshow (this one dubbed the Outlaw Roadshow) in a way that harkens back to folk rock’s humble beginnings, like an old fashioned rock revue.
Meanwhile, Williamsburg Park in its first ever show is already becoming one of the go-to places to see live outdoor music. It’s right off of the subway, and has lined up a collection of known and unknown acts throughout this summer and early fall. It’s not so much a park, though as perhaps Counting Crows’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” would best describe- “They paved paradise and put up a pa/rking lot”. While I don’t know of it was ever truly paradise, it’s simply a paved former parking lot, painted blue. While the view and surroundings aren’t exactly endearing (oil tanks sit off to the right of the stage), the venue does a great job bringing local businesses/sponsors into the venue where you can get a taste of Brooklyn’s best food and drink while the outdoor acoustics and viewing angle are excellent.
The band took the stage around 8:20, kicking off their show with a rendition of “Sullivan Street.” Known for extending songs, adding lyrics, and mixing in lyrics of other songs together, Sullivan Street was the first and only song where I noticed a distinct difference between the tried and true album version and what was played. The frumpish Duritz, in his almost Patti Smith like spoken word form let his lyrics act as a solo riff similar to what you would normally see in a guitar or drum solo. From there, Counting Crows departed from the setlist we had spied before the show, launching into “You Can’t Count On Me,” from 2008′s “Saturday Nights and Sunday Morning.”
The Counting Crows have been known to pull off some incredible cover songs over the years. A true music historian, Adam Duritz has been able to identify and capture some amazing songs and typically ones that have superior lyrics, which lend themselves to his band’s strengths. In fact, one of the Crows’ big breaks came when they were a replacement at the 1993 Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (prior to their first album being released) and covered Van Morrison’s “Caravan.” Longtime fans have enjoyed downloading some of Duritz’s Shim Sham shows (from New Orleans’ Shim Sham Club) which features many rare cover songs performed, coupled with the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, Oasis, and Sordid Humor being intermixed into Counting Crows’ more popular songs. With their newest album “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation),” the band has proudly released a full album of cover songs. They are primarily lesser known folk songs with “Amie” (Pure Prairie League) and “Ooh La La” (Faces) being some of the most popular ones. Some were songs they had dabbled with decades ago (“Jumping Jesus” -Sordid Humor, “Ballad of El Goodo” – Big Star) while others were just brought out for the first time on this album.
With a ninety minute setlist that hit about 20 songs about 4 or 5 of them were from the new album. Considering that many of these covers are a little folky it was intermingled delicately throughout the show, so there was never an abrupt change in the performance. The live highlights from this album had to have been “Like Teenage Gravity” (Kasey Anderson) and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan, made famous by The Byrds), which brought out entire Outlaw Road Show to sing backing vocals during the encore. The best cover of the night however was an inspired rendition of Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio,” which is quickly becoming a favorite song of mine.
As for the oldies but goodies, the band spanned all of their previous albums with a fair distribution among them. Duritz’s familiar voice sounded spot on, just as strong as ever and looked just as he did in the original Mr. Jones music video. Playing in front of his hometown crowd, the singer moved around on stage, climbed on the speakers and hand-mimed gestures with each song, letting the crowd understand the feeling behind his powerful lyrics. Although it may has been the 1000th time he has played these songs, Duritz and company remained energized throughout leading the crowd along the way. “Color Blind” was as powerful as ever, as was Crows’ classic “Anna Begins.” Duritz then jumped on the piano and followed “Look At Miss Ohio” with perennial crowd favorite “A Long December,” igniting the Crows faithful furing a particularly humid evening. Of the entire set, “Mr. Jones” actually seemed to be the only one that sounded a little off, sounding like Duritz was perhaps going through the motions a bit. But how could you blame a guy who may have played that tune 5000 times? The rest (“Hard Candy”, “Miami”, “Wish I Was A Girl”) of the set shows the band was still incredibly tight rendering a performance that was energetic and moving at once.
Despite being from Berkeley, California, Duritz has clearly adopted New York City as his home and you can find evidence to that in his lyrics and his actions at the concert. He alluded to how he was hoping to see him home from the stage (but couldn’t despite the artistic renderings he saw) and kicked off the encore with “Washington Square” about the feeling you get when you walk through that special part of the city. After all of these years, the Counting Crows are still rocking; To their own beat, with their independent flair, powered by Adam Duritz’s strong lyrics, great musical accompaniment and to the delight of all types of fans.
- Ray Sheldon