Words and pictures by Jon Theobald – 131 Images Ltd.
Some things, like a fine wine, improve with age – and on their 30 year anniversary tour (31 by the time they made it over here actually) the Counting Crows are still maturing nicely – and that’s from someone who first saw them in 1997. On their second night at the Apollo and last date of the UK tour, they respected and reciprocated the feelings of the packed auditorium who had been starved of their favourite band for five of those years (the pandemic obviously playing a large part in the gap since the sadly less than sonically stellar Bluesfest 2018).
A stripped-back stage as big as Hammersmith, with no backdrops or video walls can be a daunting experience, but as the band casually came on, you sensed an air of anticipation that they would own the space again tonight. As Charlie Gillingham played the upbeat opening keys of Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, and Dan Vickrey was called upon to start the guitar accompaniment, the band quickly slipped into their respective grooves. St. Robinson in his Cadillac Dream swiftly followed as they delivered the opening three songs without a break, as if desperate to make up for the lost years!
Many bands would keep their biggest hit single for the encore, but the Counting Crows are infamous for not only re-imagining their studio tracks differently on stage, but also mixing up their set night after night, so it came as no real surprise that the jangling chords of Mr. Jones appeared so early – in fact the first half of the set was dramatically different to the previous night, but the 22 song set still similarly spanned their 31 year career.
Founder and lead singer, Adam Duritz, now without his once-trademark dreadlock-styled hair, was in both good voice and mood, seemingly in his happy place, just playing music for the fans. A change of tempo as Jones segued into the slower Colorblind, with its spoken vocals being reverently sung back – word perfect – by the crowd.
Butterfly in Reverse was next, Adam explaining proudly that it was one of his favourite songs to have written, but was so hard to actually sing. As butterfly-shaped gobo lights washed over the walls and ceilings of this historic venue, and aided by a very vocal audience, he gave it a damn good go though!
The tracks flowed seamlessly: If I Could Give All My Love (or Richard Manuel is Dead), gave way to David ‘Immy’ Immerglück picking up the ukulele for Mercy and then the funky riff of Miami – complemented by a cyan and green lit stage, evoking a south-east US beach-feel to a wet south-west London night. The whole place was moving, even the lady doing the assisted signing at the front of the stage was dancing and singing away – as well as doing an impressive job interpreting Adam’s heartfelt lyrics and sometimes off-beat timing.
Chatting between the songs, Adam told us about God of Ocean Tides being written on a tour bus and mislaid for a few years. Later found, with the noise of the bus tyres on the asphalt not only audible on his Dictaphone, but seemingly present in the rhythm of the track. Also one of the bands favourite soundcheck songs (as its harmonies are a good vocal warmup) made its way next into the set – Start Again – from the Glasgow band Teenage Fanclub.
The next third of the set neatly bounced between early, mid and late Crows material. Immy, now on acoustic guitar, struck up Washington Square, then back in time to Catapult and Round Here, before bringing it up to date with their 2021 EP ‘Butter Miracle, Suite One’. The four tracks (The Tall Grass, Elevator Boots, Angel of 14th Street and Bobbie and the Rat-Kings) being played in order – and despite little chart or media visibility the crowd were well-versed in the new songs.
The band finished on a couple of staples though, the magnificent Rain King got the front row of the balcony bouncing. A spot lit Adam then sat at the piano, with Charlie and his accordion nonchalantly leaning against the stage PA stack, for a sorrowful rendition A Long December, which bought the cheers up and the stage lights down, as the crowd then awaited an encore.
Only the Counting Crows could bring both the ukulele and accordion into mainstream music and both are utilised in the emotional opening to Omaha, another crowd-singalong favourite. The normally bouncy Hanginaround, was dialled-back in tempo tonight and blended nicely into the final song Holiday in Spain, described by Adam as “our lullaby to you”.
Always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, Adam emotionally thanked the audience for their 30 years of support, re-introduces the band members in his usual way as “your friend Dan …” (and Immy and Charlie and David and Jim and Millard) and promises to be back again. As the familiar strains of the Mama & the Papa’s California Dreaming signal the start of the walkout, let’s hope that it’s long before 2027 next time!
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream (with Crimson and Clover tag)
Butterfly in Reverse
If I Could Give All My Love -Or- Richard Manuel Is Dead
God of Ocean Tides
Start Again (Teenage Fanclub cover)
The Tall Grass
Angel of 14th Street
Bobby and the Rat?Kings
A Long December
Holiday In Spain