Just got back from seeing the Counting Crows at the Roseland Ballroom. One of my favorite bands, they never tend to trot out a simple greatest hits set, and even when they play the songs everyone knows, they’ll mess with it. The phrasing is different. Adam will segue into other tunes, layer stories in. He’s always a fascinating performer.
I’m not a big bootleg guy, but every so often, I still listen to a show they did at The Warfield in January 2000, as Adam introduced phrases into earlier songs that seemed to pay off high dividends later when it became a whole rousing carnival barker freakout toward the end of the show. With a lot of performers, you can see the tracks, know what mood and vibe they’re trying to set, but he’s always a bit elusive, but the payoff is almost guaranteed.
Tonight, I even got to the venue in time to check out the opening act Wolf Creek, since I know Adam picked them, and his taste for new bands is pretty spot-on. With a lot of performers I enjoy, the stuff they like completely baffles me. But Adam’s stuff just clicks.
I got reasonably close to the stage by the time Counting Crows were set to take the stage, and I was surrounded by several different groups of friends all chatting about the concert, texting friends that they were there, getting jealous replies they’d then read to the others. It was a good vibe. Well, that was the assumption. And, to be fair, the assumption was mine. In hindsight, all the clues were there. I just projected things would be different when the band started playing.
The band comes out, launches into Round Here, and the crowd is immediately on board. As per usual, there are times when I’m not seeing Adam, but a mosaic of blurry little Adams, as dozens of people hold up iPhones to take pictrues and video. But it’s the first song, and an audience favorite, so things might get better. I always ponder why if you want a picture of a singer, you don’t even attempt to focus on him, but that’s sort of irrelevant.
Then the guy in front of me starts recording audio and video clips, and attaches them to the text message threads he had started earlier. This is dumb enough, but every time he sends one, he has to announce to the group that he just sent whomever a video of Adam singing, and he’ll be freaking out that he’s not here, etc. It seems like a dick move to keep sending blurry, unfocused video to someone who wishes they were at a show. But then you’re blocking my view when you do it, and then loudly shouting over the Counting Crows to tell everyone you’re doing it.
Ultimately, you’re bragging about something fictional, since the idea is that you’re at this show, and the recipient of your text message is not. I’d argue that neither of you is seeing a Counting Crows show. Like so many others, he is documenting an experience he isn’t having.
The people to my left are still miffed that they got to the venue early, but people crowded in around them, and that if they wanted to be close to the band, they could have come early, too. Compared to the texting braggard, at least this lady’s beef is related to the show, even though it’s pointless. It’s a GA show, people fill in gaps. The reason people keep moving in front of you is that gaps open up, and you stay in “your spot.”
Counting Crows are touring their new album, which is all cover songs, but not well-known songs or anything. Just songs from artists they like. I’ll admit I’m not as prepared as I’d like to be with the new album, but I’m at the show. Whatever Adam does for the next 100 minutes or so, I’m there for the ride. I quickly realize that when he isn’t playing a cut from August and Everything After, or a very well-known song from later albums, the GA haters catch up on their lives, as they seemingly met at the venue and haven’t seen each other in a while. Mostly with each other, and they even apologize to one another that they have to speak loudly. The volume is required since they are speaking over the Counting Crows… you remember? The band 20 feet in the other direction? Guy with the dreads singing a song? Guess not.
The lady next to me whips out her iPhone, and doesn’t start taking pictures of Adam, but instead shows her neighbors her garden and the new flowers she planted, including her new hydrangeas. As they talk, she sends the hydrangeas picture to someone who isn’t at the concert. This new technology keeps people connected, unless you want to connect to the singer you paid $60ish to see, you know, sing?
This has to be weird for the band, too. I mean, you never knew what was happening in a dark audience before. But now, every idiot in the room lights up their not-watching-the-band face with a bright LCD light. Oddly, the lesser known songs are when you do get a better chance to see Adam without a sea of iPhones in front of you, because people take more photos of the songs they like. I debate why you wouldn’t snap pics during the songs you like less, and just enjoy your favorite songs, since you know, they’re still photos? And this isn’t Vegas, Adam isn’t doing any costume changes and, unlike Cher, he sticks to one wig all night. A picture of Adam singing Mr. Jones looks exactly like Adam singing the song you don’t know. Again, logic, bad idea…
Another August tune and everyone’s singing along, until after the bridge Adam starts messing around, riffing, and seguing into something different and I’m amazed. It’s a quiet moment, as he brought the tempo and instrumentation down, and she decides to start talking some more to her friends. One of her friends even mentions, “Don’t you like this song?” and she says “Oh, this isn’t the song anymore, he’s doing something else, but he’ll probably come back to it.” I think her awareness of what was going on, coupled with her complete disregard for it, was all I could bear.
So, rather than stand 20 feet from the stage, when two people pushed past me to head toward the side, and our way out from near the front, I joined them. It was a sold out show, and two thirds over, so at that point, I just stayed in the back. The Crows were smaller, the sound a bit tinnier and not as good, and people still talked over everything, but since we were further back, they didn’t have to shout, and the band seemed louder than them. They also didn’t take as many pictures, and the ones they did were pretty amazing based on how out of focus they were coupled with them barely pointing the camera at the band.
The more I stood there, the more it hit me. These people had a choice whether to be close to the band or close to the bar, and chose the latter. When a popular song requiring audience sing-a-long happened, the drunk assessment was confirmed. These people didn’t sing politely. They were selling it like the drunkest karaoke singers ever. Don’t know the words? Doesn’t matter. We’re going for passion back here.
Compared to the “big fans,” these people are way more excited to be seeing the band. They’re also smoking pot and coming back with 3-4 drinks per person for their groups. So, maybe just more excitable, as well. But they’re definitely more fun than my previous neighbors.
This isn’t the first concert where these issues have come up. I guess my ideal concert is a reserved seated show with a great seat. I don’t know if a lot of people took pictures/video/etc. of Pulp, since I was in the second row, but I don’t care what goes on behind me, typically.
And I’m not a boisterous fan. I’m there to watch. It’s nearly like theater to me. I like seeing Adam lock eyes with another band member, and all the subtle business like that.
When I think of the Counting Crows, it is the subtle art and beauty in the lyrics, and the yearning, that draw me in. And it makes me wonder why this crowd isn’t as interested in those delicate moments, as well. They’re happening onstage right now, in front of us.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying no one but me understands it. I’m not even their biggest fan. Just a normal fan.
But Adam doesn’t even seem to tour every year, so to me the concerts are rare treats. I can exchange small talk with my friends tomorrow, and that’s fine. And they’ll have to suffer through without blurry video as proof of what I experienced tonight, or at least tried to. And that’ll be fine, too.
I went there to connect with someone whose number isn’t in my phone.