August And Everything After -- Live At Town Hall
Eagle Rock, 2011
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/29/2011
It took a whole 40 minutes into this disc for me to get goosebumps from the top of my forehead to the base of my spine---but when that moment arrived, man oh man.
The idea of playing Counting Crows’ seminal 1993 debut August And Everything After front to back seems inevitable in a way, when you consider how that monumental disc has shaped and influenced not just everything they’ve done since, but everything so many other bands working the same general musical territory have done. Its mix of brutally honest, sharply poetic introspection with Van Morrisonesque mystical melodicism has stood head and shoulders above the crowd since the day the album came out.
This disc—which captures a 2007 performance at New York’s Town Hall—demonstrates the inevitable evolution these songs have gone through over the course of 14 years. By now, the longtime core of the band—lead vocalist Adam Duritz, guitarists David Bryson and Dan Vickrey, and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham—has played many of these songs, especially the best-known ones, hundreds of times on stage. Over the course of those hundreds of repetitions, the songs have continued to develop, both because that’s the nature of the game, and because for a singer-songwriter as dedicated to creating memorable art as Duritz, you have to change and evolve, you can’t just repeat the same performance over and over again, or the art itself dies.
So things open up with “Round Here” and all is superficially familiar as Duritz plumbs the depths of a young woman’s emotional dissolution, but you aren’t a minute or two in before you notice the changed inflections and alternate phrasings Duritz uses on many lines, and then halfway through, the song changes completely—no exaggeration, because they literally morph the song into “Raining In Baltimore,” track 10 on the original album.
In some sense, this curveball is a smart move, because it tells you immediately that if you were anticipating a note-for-note recitation of the original album, you’re going to be surprised many times before the evening is done. And indeed you are. “Omaha” carries the familiar strains of Gillingham’s accordion, but the verses lurch toward the choruses in a different cadence than you expect. Despite Duritz fiddling endlessly with his phrasing, the ramshackle poetry of “Mr. Jones” remains one of the most insightful windows into the mind of the aspiring rock star of any song ever composed.
Ah, but the transcendent moment on this disc comes when the band finally breaks out of the trilogy of somber introspection that stretches from “Perfect Blue Buildings” through the dirge-like “Time And Time Again.” First latter-day drummer Jim Bogios gets the crowd going pumping his kick-drum, and then the entire band crashes headlong into “Rain King,” the single most propulsive cut on August, a song of “faith and sex and God” that pushes hard at every turn.
Three verses in, “Rain King” is already carrying the audience on its shoulders when it undergoes a stunning transformation. The melody remains the same, but suddenly Duritz is singing a different song—Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”—from start to magnificent finish, transforming it along the way, as if by magic, into a CC song, complete with David Immergluck’s masterful mandolin. The audience cheers every couplet and Duritz’s performance is absolutely electric. I might question some of the changes he makes to his own songs on this disc, but his reimagining of “Thunder Road,” one of those iconic songs of pain and hope without which Counting Crows itself might not exist, is pure musical genius.
After that, the rest of the disc could have consisted of cats howling at the moon, and it wouldn’t have erased my grin. It doesn’t. Duritz introduces “Sullivan Street” at length with a story about the relationship that inspired it, Dan Vickrey leads the ensemble through a suitably eerie extended intro to “Ghost Train,” and there’s one song left, one of the most important Duritz has ever written.
“A Murder Of One” captures the band’s very identity in the lyric, while essaying the impossibly urgent pleas of a narrator trying to convince a battered friend—with whom he may or may not be in love—to leave her abusive spouse. As he pleads at the climax for her to “change – change – change,” the song itself changes, taking in interpolations of U2’s “Red Hill Mining Town” and the surrealistic “Doris Day” by old CC friends Sordid Humor, along with sundry other alternate lyric fragments Duritz has employed playing these songs live over the years—a bizarre kaleidoscope of words and music that works better than it has any right to. The song crescendos spectacularly at the finish, bringing the evening to a memorable close.
August And Everything After stands as one of the landmark albums of its time. The Town Hall release captures Counting Crows live 14 years later, a band still on an upward arc, still finding fresh nuances inside and between the lines of these remarkable songs. Long may they run.
|Good review, can't wait to get this one. I remember reading that this was the first time the band had played Murder of One in like a decade. It's always been one of those songs Duritz finds too painful to play live. And even after this show, they rarely play it anymore. Sad to see they are currently a band without a label and no new music or tour in sight.|