New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2006, Volume 13, #7
Written by John Metzger
For a time it appeared as if Counting Crows was dying a slow, painful death. The material on its last outing Hard Candy, while solid, didn’t have the same resilience as the ensemble’s earlier works, and much as the album’s glossy sheen suggested, the ragged glory of the collective’s formative years had evolved into tight-knit professionalism. Containing fewer risks, Counting Crows’ concerts increasingly sounded prefabricated and perfunctory, and despite the dappled sunshine that crept through his latest batch of lyrics, front man Adam Duritz seemed to be sinking into the deadened pain of an inescapably dark space.
Although some disinterest and lethargy still clings to Counting Crows on its latest effort New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall, over the course of the album’s 15 tracks, there also are plenty of signs to indicate that a renaissance is underway. For starters, the selections from Hard Candy — such as Good Times’ desperate plea for love and Holiday in Spain’s hope for a new beginning — feel more fully realized and lived in than their studio counterparts. Likewise, many of the old chestnuts — the shimmering vibrancy of Omaha, the harrowing beauty of Perfect Blue Buildings, and the mournfully moonlit fragility of Goodnight Elisabeth — are given a new lease on life. In effect, the group’s ability not only to reinvent its songs from night to night but also to weave them together into a passionately cohesive narrative — be it within the framework of a single evening or across a sequence of several shows — has returned.
Naturally, most of the credit for the successes on New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall goes to Duritz, who delivered a series of a gut-wrenching, emotionally raw performances on the trio of dates in February 2003 from which the collection’s material was culled. At first glance, Rain King’s reconfiguration as a wistful, country-tinged lullaby seems like an unusual way to open the affair, and its moodiness is almost too much to bear, particularly since it comes so early in the set. Neither Richard Manuel Is Dead, despite its shades of the Allman Brothers Band’s Blue Sky, nor Catapult, through which Duritz’s anguish bleeds profusely, do much to lift the increasingly oppressive melancholia that hangs so heavily in the air. By the time that he sinks into Hazy, a solo piano ballad that echoes Joni Mitchell’s saddest and most intimate moments, everything begins to make more sense.
Since the beginning of its career, Counting Crows has lived and died based upon how ambitiously Duritz has used the stage to achieve his own personal catharsis, but along the way, his agitated sentiments gave way to apathetic detachment. Whether the concerts highlighted on New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall were the beginning, middle, or end of his journey of self-discovery matters less than the notion that it happened at all. By delving so deeply into his angst-filled tales of love, loss, and regret, Duritz reconnected with the distinctiveness that had begun to slip away from him. In the process, he paved the way for Counting Crows’ rebirth by transforming New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall into the pivotal experience that the band needed to undergo in order to make its next move. ½
New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box