On the strength of this show, though, Counting Crows are streets ahead of the likes of the Spin Doctors and retro-rockers the Black Crowes. Just to keep the audience on their toes, they kicked off with two new songs, 'Elizabeth' and 'Children in Bloom'. The elements were familiar - tortured vocals, woman's name as focus, sudden rock-outs - but it wasn't until the delicate guitar jingle, followed by the pleading voice, of 'Round Here', the opening track on August . . ., that the real pleasure of recognition could be felt. There's nothing as dramatic as a staggered opening, as REM well know, and with a band as adept as the five-piece behind Duritz, the possibilities for blending live sounds are abundant. Two songs later, 'Omaha' drummed up the same tingle factor with its accordion and drum intro and its sinuous melody. The NME might have cruelly called it 'a 'Hotel California' for the post-grunge set', but, hey, a Springsteen-like fantasy about the empty heart of America? We could all use some of that at the moment. Even the pony-tails in the industry-heavy audience got into the chorus.
Such is the strength of Duritz's presence that, if the first time you hear the album they sound like REM, the second time around they sound like themselves. The singer / songwriter launches himself into every line, quite able to slip convincingly from plain speech to a cry from the bleeding heart. As he warms to his own tales of bourgeois angst, you get to hear the lovely depth of his voice. He's whiny like Stipe, but not as weedy. He gets emotional, but while you choke he moves up a gear, blasting out a long, loud note. Coupled with the sheer length of the songs, you get the impression of having been in a gifted speaker's presence.
Although the music is the bed upon which Duritz's voice luxuriates, Counting Crows are no mere riff- mongers. In Dan Vickley, a new member, they have a guitarist capable of challenging the Edge (he wears black and, rock'n'roll, he doesn't not smoke), while the Hammond organ and occasional backing vocals of Charlie Gillingham give plenty of soul. They do, however, have a collection of perfect visual riffs, in the shape of Duritz. A pudgy guy with funky dreds can go a long way on looks alone in the music industry - look at Jazzie B, and Posdnous from De La Soul. However, Duritz also has a range of gestures to magnify the heartache - forefingers pointed at his own head in anguish, perfectly timed lurches to the fixed mike, eyes near-permanently downcast. He does stagger about during the instrumental bits rather heavily, though.
'Mr Jones', the song that reincarnates Bob Dylan's square old Mr Jones, punctuated the overly slow part of the set. They left with another rocker, 'Rain King', and, like true pros, encored with a microcosm of the night. 'Sullivan Street' is a seductive, brooding ballad, piano pumping beneath a minimal rhythm section. The words leave much to the imagination - the name of the street is the only specific thing in the whole song. But 'A Murder of One' went even further, with an anguished passage added on, a childlike plea not to be forgotten. No chance.
Counting Crows will be at the London Forum on April 22Reuse content