Originally filmed in 1997 for the Dutch program “2 Meter Sessies,” this rare, intimate performance captures the Counting Crows showcasing their prowess as a vital live band and putting creative spins on music from their first two studio LPs.
The career of Counting Crows tends to get reduced to one album, their 1993 debut, “August and Everything After.” (Casual fans might only know them from that album’s big hit, “Mr. Jones.”) But fans of ‘90s alt-rock would be well advised to dig a little deeper into the band’s fine and underrated catalog.
A good place to start is their sophomore release, “Recovering the Satellites” (1996), in which singer Adam Duritz writes a series of “life on the road” songs reflecting on his band’s flash of intense post-“August” fame. Though the premise of a “sensitive alt-rock dude complaining about his own success” record might initially be a turn-off, Duritz’s ability to make his own alienation feel universal (and his knack for durable folk-rock melodies) redeems the LP.
Actually, before checking out “Recovering the Satellites,” you might as well watch this excellent and rare TV appearance from that album’s tour cycle in 1997. Originally filmed for the Dutch program “2 Meter Sessies” — it’s like Holland’s answer to “Austin City Limits” — the show’s careful and intimate staging is ideal for this introspective and nuanced ensemble.
Counting Crows impress as a hard-touring unit performing some of the strongest material of their career. That includes “Satellite” highlights such as the self-lacerating “Have You Seen Me Lately?” and “Catapult,” which Duritz introduces as a song about wanting to hurl yourself off something. He’s sort of joking…and sort of not. If you like the versions of these songs, don’t get too attached to them — they vary significantly from their studio counterparts. Especially during this period, Counting Crows were known for dramatically rearranging their songs in concert, a practice that earned them a reputation for being a polarizing live act.
If you come here expecting a straight-forward rendition of the bouncy, feel-good Van Morrison-isms of “Mr. Jones,” you might be disappointed by the jazzy reboot in Amsterdam, prefaced by a snippet of The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” (Hardcore Counting Crows fans might recognize this arrangement from the 1998 live album, “Across a Wire: Live in New York City.”) “Mr. Jones” gets an elongated, bombastic treatment, and another “August” favorite, the upbeat crowd-pleaser “Rain King,” morphs into a slower, more contemplative piece. For those yearning for a replication of the album…well, you can’t always get what you want.
Duritz remains the focal point, the unlikely charisma that wooed two different ‘Friends’ cast members on full display.
This adventurousness makes Counting Crows a vital live act. Duritz remains the focal point, the unlikely charisma that wooed two different “Friends” cast members on full display. His expressive vocals and quiet intensity draw you into the achingly personal (sometimes uncomfortably personal) tunes.
But even more than reasserting Duritz’s star power, what this Amsterdam performance does is exhibit Counting Crows’ teamwork as a band. The musicians never resort to flash, instead offering thoughtfully rendered support to Duritz’s songs. Two members in particular stand out: Charlie Gillingham, the band’s utility infielder, who moves expertly among piano, organ and accordion while also supplying soulful backing vocals. And lead guitarist Dan Vickrey, who acts as a crucial musical and visual counterpoint, injecting these gentle songs with rock ‘n’ roll energy. Though they’ll never be the most fashionable ‘90s band, this performance shows that Counting Crows have it where it counts — durable songs played by top-flight musicians.
Counting Crows “Amsterdam Sessions 1997” Setlist
Angels of the Silences
So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star (Byrds cover)—>Mr. Jones
Have You Seen Me Lately?
Steven Hyden is the author of “This Isn’t Happening,” “Twilight of the Gods,” “Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me,” and (with Steve Gorman) “Hard to Handle.” His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Billboard, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Grantland, The A.V. Club, Slate and Salon. He is currently the cultural critic at UPROXX. He lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children.