Rain Kings and Catapults

Counting Crows

Aragon Ballroom - Chicago

March 11, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1997, Volume 4, #4

Written by John Metzger

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For those unfamiliar with the Counting Crows' live performances, the group doesn't play its songs "by the book." Instead, singer Adam Duritz delivers the improvisational spark to move its material into new territory. At times, during the second of two shows at the Aragon Theater in Chicago on March 11, it seemed as if Duritz had headed so far out that the rest of the band had to struggle to keep up. But that's what live performances are all about.  If you don't take the risks, why bother performing.

Virtually all of the songs from August and Everything After, the Counting Crows' debut, were given new twists and turns, which kept the evening quite interesting. Still, the group managed to lose many audience members seeking mere replications of the album versions. The songs off the band's latest release Recovering the Satellites were played in a much more straightforward manner.

As the lights went down, California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas was piped in over the speakers. The Counting Crows immediately launched into Recovering the Satellites. The group gave away most of its light show during this tune, painting the backdrop in similar colors to the album cover. As Duritz began to sing the song's bridge, a shooting star lit up to highlight his words.

After the thunderous assault of Angels of the Silences and Rain King hilarious with the audience singing it note for note off the album and Duritz and company taking the song its own direction the band hit its stride and settled down for a somber Ghost Train. Guitarist David Bryson took a solo, which hinted at the Crows' own Mercury, as an introduction to the song while Duritz caught his breath. Another Horsedreamer's Blues started from nothing and built into swirling, intense whirlwind. Daylight Fading concluded the first part of the concert, with its bouncy, country-influenced swagger.

Duritz introduced the middle portion of the set as the acoustic part of the show, which consisted of three songs Omaha, Mercury, and Mr. Jones. Omaha was fairly routine, although fun to hear, while Mercury was a blistering blues number, made all the more potent with its acoustic treatment. However, it was on Mr. Jones that the Counting Crows totally let loose. Most of the audience didn't even recognize the song until it was half over, and this was a long version, slowed down considerably from the popular single.  The band returned to its  electric instruments for the last third of the show, and served up a vastly different Round Here. While it wasn't quite as difficult to recognize as Mr. Jones, it too was stretched into new territory. Duritz improvised a number of lyrics, practically creating a new song against a sparse backdrop of musical notes from the rest of the band.

The ferocity returned for the concluding trio of Catapult, Children in Bloom, and Murder of One. There was an incredible intensity of emotion in Duritz's vocal treatment of Catapult. As he sang, I wanna be the knife that cuts into my hand, it as conceivable that, at any moment, he could have pulled out a switchblade. Murder of One was a fine conclusion to the set, and it was jammed out into an immensely enjoyable sensory attack.

The first encore matched a beautiful Anna Begins with the Band-like A Long December. The second encore featured an unrecorded song, Wise Blood, which was reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' Sway from its excellent Sticky Fingers album. After a brief discussion, the Counting Crows concluded the show with a blistering I'm Not Sleeping. Again, the emotion contained in Duritz's singing was incredible. As he belted out, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 a.m., all alone again, but I've been through all this shit before, he seemed on the verge of self-destruction.

Despite the short length of the show (about 100 minutes), it was emotionally exhausting and incredibly satisfying. Looking back, it is amazing to see how the Counting Crows has opened up a lot of its early material, adding an improvisational element to its concerts.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, was the sound, which was absolutely abysmal.  Running a close second was the pitiful opening act, Engine 88. While Duritz introduced the band as one of his favorites, the only thing Engine 88 had going for it was its Bay Area home.

Counting Crows' Recovering the Satellites is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Copyright 1997 The Music Box