By Matt Arena
Trying to stay relevant is something that many bands at one point or another struggle with. Lately thereâ€™s been a rebirth of 90â€™s bands, the ones that had â€œthat one songâ€ you knew 15 years ago. This summer has seen the launch of monster tours, with five or more of them all on the bill playing essentially to peopleâ€™s nostalgia. Then thereâ€™s Counting Crows. Though their mainstream breakthrough occurred in the 90â€™s, they in no way fit into this category as â€œstaying relevantâ€ has never been much of an issue for them. Unlike many from their time, they didnâ€™t simply go away when their next album didnâ€™t do as well or the next song didnâ€™t hit. Of course it helps that Counting Crows have consistently churned out great music since they first came onto the scene. But even as a live act, theyâ€™re still able to headline and sell out major clubs to a degree that popular bands now canâ€™t pull off. Having just played a sold-out show at Roseland Ballroom a few months ago and packing Willamsburg Park this past Tuesday is a testament to this. Theyâ€™ve adapted to the digital age, regularly interacting with fans on their forum and twitter, and kept their live show fresh by constructing unique tours like The Travelling Circus & Medicine Show and more recently The Outlaw Road Show. Lead singer Adam Durtiz is a mainstay at festivals like SXSW and CMJ, hosting his very own showcases and constantly promoting new bands. In short, Counting Crows get it.
Thatâ€™s why it wasnâ€™t a shock to anybody when they announced their nationwide Outlaw Road Show tour. Split into two legs, each section of the tour would be highlighted by the selection of support bands. 3 bands per leg, with a constant rotation of their slot, â€œbecause I don’t really think that we have to delineate who’s the bigger band than anybody elseâ€ according to Adam. That way â€œno one would have to be the band that no one sees every night or the band that everyone sees every night.â€ See? Counting Crows get it. It was clear Durtiz was a genuine fan of the bands they brought with them, especially watching him rock out on the side of the stage during each set. The show at Williamsburg Waterfront marked the beginning of the 2nd leg, which featured Kasey Anderson & The Honkies, Field Report, and We Are Augustines.
The support was expertly chosen as all bands seems to strike a chord within the audience. The genre hopping Kasey Anderson, who spanned sounds from modern alternative to soul R&B, seemed to get a different person dancing for each song. Even setting aside his passionate intro for the band, itâ€™s clear Adam Durtiz is a staunch supporter of Kasey Anderson as their song â€˜Like Teenage Gravityâ€™ was not only selected on Counting Crowsâ€™ latest covers album but was the lead single from it. Also on the bill was Field Report, headed by Christopher Porterfield and backed by what must be the best dressed band in the music industry. With an introspective and mellow spin on modern alt rock, Field Report is just getting started as they told the crowd, â€œthis is a big for us, itâ€™s the first show weâ€™ve ever had merch for.â€ Though the band is new, Porterfield certainly isnâ€™t new to the music scene. Long time friends with Bon Iverâ€™s own Justin Vernon, the similarities between the two act are apparent, albeit Field Reportâ€™s penchant for a much more impassioned live performance. Although the slot switching is meant to keep all support acts on an even keel, props must be paid to We Are Augustines for really amping the crowd up prior to Counting Crows. Of course being Brooklyn natives probably helped, itâ€™s still hard to imagine any audience not falling in love with this band. Playing a slew of tracks off their fantastic debut album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, tracks like their lead single â€˜Chapel Songâ€™ went down especially well. The raspy vocals of Billy McCarthy add an undeniable amount of emotion to each song, especially with his ability to seemingly give everything he has into every single word. A highlight of the set was a beautiful rendition of â€˜Philadelphia (The City of Brotherly Love),â€™ stripped down to just piano and vocals. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, seeing Billy sing with nothing but a beer in his hand while Eric Sanderson played piano made the song that much better. Leaving the crowd completely wowed, they no doubt earned a slew of new fans as many could be heard expressing how blown away they were by We Are Augustines.
Coming out to Bill Withersâ€™ â€˜Lean on Me,â€™ the second Counting Crows took the stage a wash came over the venue. There are bands that grab onto this inexplicable part of your attention span and all but command you to watch every second of their set. Counting Crows are one of those bands. They wonâ€™t thrash around the stage or unleash ear-splitting screams into the mic, but they manage to exude a level of passion thatâ€™s extremely rare with live music. Thereâ€™s a sense of genuineness that comes across in Adam Duritzâ€™s singing, and though his incredibly personal lyrics do help, thereâ€™s a sense that he actually cares that the audience is there. A lot of bands, especially when they get big, can plug in any crowd from any city and though there are shouts of â€œwe love you New York!â€ you donâ€™t always get the feeling that they actually do. Not so with Counting Crows. Whether it be the soul searching desperation in songs like â€˜Colorblindâ€™ or the reckless abandon of the bandâ€™s massive hit â€˜Mr. Jones,â€™ the connection with the crowd is always there. The latter instantly turned the floor of Williamsburg Park into a bouncy castle, with people as far back as the soundboard dancing as wildly as those in the front.
Fresh off the release of their covers album Underwater Sunshine, Counting Crows played a handful of their unique takes on classics like Bob Dylanâ€™s â€˜You Ainâ€™t Goinâ€™ Nowhereâ€™ to Kasey Andersonâ€™s â€˜Like Teenage Gravity.â€™ Unlike most uninspired covers that you may hear, Counting Crows put a trademark spin on every one they do. So much so that Kasey Anderson decided to do a cover of Counting Crowsâ€™ cover of his own song. Itâ€™s a something youâ€™d expect in a Chris Nolan film, but speaks to the bandâ€™s ability to take something and make it their own. Not to get further down into layers of confusion, but many of their own songs are completely reinvented live, almost as if theyâ€™re covering themselves. â€˜Mr. Jonesâ€™ has been played acoustically many times, changing the entire dynamic and meaning of the song, and â€˜Round Hereâ€™ seems to sound like a different song every time they play it.
As the night drew to a close, Counting Crows has something really special up their sleeve. Blacking out the lights as the lead riff for â€˜Hanginaroundâ€™ kicked in, the band were suddenly joined on stage by various members of Kasey Anderson & the Honkies. Then everyone from Field Report came on. And then all three of We Are Augustines huddled around the mic, drinks in hand and bellowing out the chorus of what became an amazing jam session. Crowding easily 20+ musicians on stage, half of them with instruments in hand and the other half grouped around microphones, it gave the already rowdy song an even looser feel. It felt like watching them in their basement, just jamming together. The crowd too was wrapped up, as Williamsburg Park became a sea of people clapping, stomping, and belting out the song as loud as they could. It was a perfect representation of what makes Counting Crows such a fantastic band; fostering of the personal element in a crowd of thousands. Youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a band that enjoys themselves as much and is half as genuine as Counting Crows.