Nostalgia’s not such a bad thing sometimes. It’s not ultimately going to take you somewhere new – you might not end up with that tattoo or piercing you secretly wanted but were too afraid to follow through with – but it can have its moments. Nostalgia, as it happens, was at least part of what led me to The Roundhouse on Monday night to see Counting Crows play to a heartily full crowd.
If you’d ascended from the gaping black chasm of Chalk Farm underground station between 6.30 and 8pm that night, you’d have been greeted by one of several charming Cockney fellows, bellowing “Caaaaaaantin’ Crowws! Tic’ets fa Caaaaaaaaaantin Crowwws!’ straight into your clammy, desperate face. At least, that’s what happened to my face when I ascended, but I stuck around for a while and watched as more terrified commuters ran home from their day jobs and vaguely processed that there was obviously some sort of bird show in town. The point here is that tickets were up for grabs if you wanted them: this wasn’t going to be a sell-out show by normal Roundhouse standards, but then again selling out The Roundhouse is a 3000-ticket undertaking, and not necessarily a given for a band whose greatest commercial hit remains its 1993 debut album.
The warmup act, Lucy Rose was a bonus. The 25-year-old singer came to attention with 2012’s Like I Used To and has been on the touring circuit ever since. You can see why: there’s enough style and class in her 5-piece setup to send less discerning outfits into the shadows. Whether her music’s up your alley or not, it’s hard to argue with the voice: haunting, sleek, understated – these are some of the words that were banded around by me and my partner-in-crime watching that evening (sleek was her choice – for some reason it always makes me think of a panther). Other than the woman herself, it was Rose’s drummer who I noted stealing the show. He’s the more physical variety of your average percussionists, certainly: he’s not jazz-drummer cool in his arm movements, but this wasn’t wishy-washy background thumping either. The guy can really hit a beat, and it amounts for a richness of sound that you don’t often find in singer-songwriter getups. New song, ‘Nebraska’ was a welcome addition to the set list of more familiar tracks like ‘Middle of the Bed’, and the act left the stage nicely warmed for what followed.
If you’re a band from the 80s or 90s, chances are you might have entrance music. Counting Crows choose Bill Withers’ ‘Lean on Me’, and it’s a hard one to argue with. Not only does it never fail to set the mood, but it also succinctly compliments the whole ‘I’m really very nice’ vibe that they have going on. Opening track ‘Round Here’ led into ‘Scarecrow’, the second single of the band’s latest album, Somewhere Under Wonderland. This is actually far less annoying than the first single, ‘Palisades Park’: a track that essentially requires singer Adam Duritz to half sing, half speak to his adoring audience with dramatic arm gestures for about ten minutes, whilst people start to wonder what happened to some of the family favourites.
It started to dawn on me that this is one hell of an operation. Not content to settle for a traditional four-piece model, Counting Crows have seven guys on stage at any one time. That includes Duritz as singer and occasional pianist, three guitarists, a drummer, a bassist and one accordion player. Okay, fine – they don’t use that one all the time, so he doubles up as the keyboardist too, but it’s a valiant effort to include accordion in your stock instrument base nonetheless.
They were slick – I can’t deny it. There were no dud notes, no missed beats, no fuck ups of any kind, all night. And they put on a show. Sure, it was occasionally a bit weird to see lead guitarist, Dan Vickrey, doing some sort of lizard dance across the stage at seemingly random intervals. Then again, you have to remember that these guys are – or approaching – fifty years old, so it’s frankly amazing that they can even still do a lizard dance with as much conviction as they ever did. Yeah, alright, it’s not as if they’re in their seventies but they’ve had a good innings thus far and are still putting on a great show. They’re passionate, dedicated musicians, and in-between some of the stuffier filler, there’s some great tracks in there. It’s all a bit mid-west USA sometimes (the band is actually from California); whilst there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, music of the rootin’ tootin’ variety isn’t everyone’s blend of tea.
By the time the set’s half gone and the ringing notes of ‘Omaha’ have everyone waving their arms, whatever nerves started the night have well and truly evaporated: Duritz actually gives up most of the lyrics to the audience, and it makes you question if he’s just indescribably bored of singing it. Whether or not that’s the case, they were humble with the warmth of feeling from the crowd’s reaction.
I was struck, in that two-hour set, by how little I know of their wider discography. I couldn’t have been the only one, because anything from August and Everything After had the house coming down, where occasional forays into the likes of Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings – not so much. Would I go out and buy that album now? Maybe. If it was at a discount. But there’s definitely a performance here you want to see and there’s still a lot of life in these guys. Buy the album – what the hell. Sometimes rootin’ tootin’s worth sticking on in an idle moment.