Counting Crows - New Amsterdam: Live At Heineken Music Hall
Release Date: June 20, 2006
Record Label: Geffen Records
Are the Counting Crows possibly preparing for a final bow before the curtain slides closed on the band’s career? Creatively, their 2002 album, Hard Candy, toiled toward that apex all bands long to reach, and fans split down the middle on its success. Personally, I think some of the songs on that CD are among the best that Adam Duritz has ever written; conversely, there are also a few just as forgettable. 2003 brought the career retrospective, Films About Ghosts: The Best Of…, that seemed to skip a number of fan favorites in favor of newer songs. While the band just took a break from touring to record their new album before they set out with the Goo Goo Dolls, Geffen has turned around and released a live album recorded back in 2003. New Amsterdam: Live At Heineken Music Hall is a seventy-four minute performance from one of alternative rock’s greatest lyrical groups.
By launching into a self-indulgent rendition of “Rain King” to open the set, Adam Duritz shows that he remains a far sight better in a studio atmosphere than on a stage; this feeling returns to a lesser degree with “Hanginaround” later in the set. Initially, he is completely off the song’s beat and the song proves nearly cringeworthy. It takes a spot-on rendition of “Goodnight L.A.” to make the pain subside a bit. Charlie Gillingham is the unsung hero of this cut, with his exuberant yet underappreciated piano playing providing the emotion of the song. Duritz here is a mere pawn as the rest of the band shows just why Counting Crows are not just Adam Duritz and a bunch of hired hands. Since 1999’s This Desert Life is not just the ever-popular “Hanginaround,” the band includes “St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream.” While it does not stand out remarkably, it is a great way to introduce newer fans to one of the Crows’ lesser-known songs. “Omaha” and “Perfect Blue Buildings” also make it into the set list from August and Everything After, the band’s 1993 debut. On the former, Adam Duritz stays mostly true to the studio version, but the instrumentals pick up quite remarkably, especially the piano and mandolin. The latter is just as depressingly melancholic as we all remember, although it does disrupt the flow of the set a bit. I would be remiss if I did not mention the new song, “Hazy,” which is included at the halfway point. Well, it is not new per se, but actually unreleased. Therefore, there are no guarantees it will appear on the band’s new album or anything like that. This one is a soothing piano ballad that really does not do much of anything. Overall, I found it quite disappointing.
Ultimately, this CD is fragile. At any point, it could tumble into the realm of disposable nothingness, but there is a shred of emotion and dedication that prevents the free-fall into concert hell. Recorded three years ago, it is simply not a very strong album on its own. Duritz rarely banters with the crowd, and the songs themselves just do not captivate as they do on their individual albums. I’m all for mixing it up a little during a live performance, but the instrumental improvisation on Live At Heineken Music Hall is excellent, where the vocals come across as sub par. Die-hard fans of Counting Crows will enjoy this offering for the same reason fans enjoy b-sides; they complete collections and give them something to tide them over between albums. Casual fans might find it tougher to get into the improvisation and vocal peculiarities that dog this CD, but I recommend you give it a fair chance. As Adam Duritz sings on “Omaha,” “Get right to the heart of matters/It's the heart that matters more.” I hope that Counting Crows haven’t forgotten just what endeared them to so many people over the last thirteen years. The heart really does matter more.
I fixed the review by adding an Overall Score. I usually don't do that, but because I judged the lyrics and production extremely subjectively on the live CD, I figured it warranted a more "correct" score. So, use the 6.9 as the actual score, please.