I’ve seen Counting Crows and the Wallflowers before. I’ve even seen them together before. I was invited to sometime in mid- to late-high school before I knew either of them well and it was a time I couldn’t really have appreciated it. I still regretted not going for a long time for all sorts of reasons. But later, I did see them, in December 2003, which is an alarmingly long ten years ago now. You can see the setlist here and what I thought of the show here.
A decade is a long time. It’s actually been almost 14 years since what I dubbed “the perfect show” at the time, still one of the best I’ve ever seen, which was the first time I saw CC ever. That was at the Hammerstein Ballroom in 1999, when they played this set in the midst of the release of This Desert Life, still my favorite of their albums. I could’ve seen this show at Hammerstein Ballroom as well, and would have loved to commemorate that full-circle, but I’ll be taking a train from LA to Albuquerque on that day. Then they’re playing at the Borgata in AC, where Fish and I saw them in the summer of ’09, but I’ll be in Albuquerque that day too. They’ll be in California in late July, but on those days, I’ll be in New Jersey.
So there was really nothing for it but to pack up the car and head four hours to a place called Big Flats, New York, where they were playing on Saturday a couple days back. I haven’t been as in to concerts lately as I once was, but this is, I believe, the twelfth time I’ve seen Counting Crows live in my life and virtually none of the shows fails to be a religious experience of some kind. The eleventh show, the last one, in New York sometime last year (Google tells me it was April 24, 2012 at the Roseland Ballroom) was altogether forgettable, being a day when I was sick and exhausted and overworked and we were far far away from the stage. But this one was a good comeback and made the first time I think my girlfriend enjoyed the show, though she was touched up with a bit of sickness probably deriving from the roadside country restaurant we hit on the way.
The Wallflowers set was among the best I could hope for from them. I’ve listened to their new release a couple times and it’s fine, but I was still hoping for a much older set of songs to be immersed in what I assumed would be about half new stuff. I was pleased to be very wrong and find that only one or two of the songs were off the new album, while some really old favorites, most notably “I’ve Been Delivered,” made the set. With that and “Three Marlenas” being my two favorite songs of theirs and both being played, though the latter still in the upbeat style they prefer for playing it live, I was really happy with their song selections.
But CC reminded me why they top my list of concerts seen and why I drove four hours to get there. Adam seemed sadder than usual, or perhaps just more immersed in what they’re now calling dissociative disorder for him, but I think must truly be some combination of his itinerant loneliness and the wonder of truly becoming famous and still being able to solve the larger puzzles of life. It has to be bizarre to feel so isolated and crazy most of the time and have adoring fans screaming your words back at you like some solipsistic echo-chamber. I don’t know what becomes of the people who connect most deeply through feelings of isolation, but I do know that David Foster Wallace said that “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved … Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.” It is notable that music is among the five keys to DFW’s possible escape from being, what he calls in the same passage, “a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know.” I also know that a lot of the songs CC sang on Saturday referenced cutting and bleeding.
It’s hard to know how much of any given selection sample of Counting Crows songs sounds extra-sad or how much that’s just their style. As the otherwise worthless movie High Fidelity put it, “Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” It makes you wonder, after a time, how much of your personal romantic narrative is tinged with the failures of people like Adam Duritz, how much you’re relating because he’s speaking to you or because he’s persuading you. I still feel a weird sting of how the song “A Murder of One” turned on me and made from the singer to feeling like it may just be an anthem of enabling morally dubious behavior that was being stabbed into my back. How many of these things are justifications for behavior like I just discovered in DFW’s bio, going through women like so many energy drinks on an unending binge? And does it make it any less meaningful to you if what you’re relating to is different for how you relate and what was intended to be related to? So much for bridging our bags of bones to find common experience.
Regardless, CC highlighted why they still get to headline despite not joining the Wallflowers in having a #1 hit single at any point (though their albums always sell well in the charts). Jakob Dylan goes up there and sings and plays his guitar and the band does their thing and they even rock out on a couple of songs. Counting Crows, led by Duritz, performs. They put on a show. They remain the only band where I think the use of lights actually augments the overall performance – every move and line (often reworked) feels meaningful and powerful, every flash and tilt and tweak feels part of an orchestrated whole that creates an experience that I have never really found in the audience of anyone else’s music. I really love Weakerthans shows and that Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert gave me goosebumps, and seeing Bob Dylan always does the same in a way, but no one performs like Counting Crows.
It was an emotional and charged show, but for some reason I couldn’t get the echoes of the DFW bio out of my head while I was listening. I know I’ve drawn this very close connection between Wallace and Duritz for a long time and it may be totally something I’m seeing without it being there, like Saving Private Ryan being an anti-war movie. But I worry about Adam Duritz, I worry about how much and how deeply he feels, I worry about his meds. I worry about me too, sometimes, maybe a little bit more during a CC show, though nothing like that one time in summer 2010. I only cried during “St. Robinson” and a little bit during “Hospital” and “Rain King”. And maybe in that one moment of “Miami”. That one line gets me every time, even moreso now.
I think Saturday was the only day this month it hasn’t rained. I’m not quite sure that’s true – there must have been one other, but Rain seems to be the theme of June to go with Illness from May. It probably rained here while we were in Big Flats, New York under a mercifully sunny, if a bit chilly, sky. It started raining heavily while I was writing this, raising concerns about more flooding in our basement, or at least something renewed. We have to dry out the rug down there, excluded perfectly by the renter’s insurance we were obliged to get moving in, proving once again that the thing you’d need insurance for is the one thing that it won’t be covered for, just like cell phones in emergencies and pretty much everything touched in some way by American capitalism. Water damage is somehow in the category with earthquakes, legal demands, intentional destruction, nuclear hazards, and (I kid you not) war. Because when I think of water, I think it’s about as unlikely and dramatic as nuclear hazards or war.
It was really good to learn, however, that all bets are off for renter’s insurance in the following circumstances:
a. Undeclared war, civil war, insurrection, rebellion, or revolution;
b. Warlike act by a military force or military personnel; or
c. Destruction, seizure or use for a military purpose.
And just to be extra-clear, they added the following:
Discharge of a nuclear weapon will be deemed a warlike act even if accidental.
Something about the rising foment toward Obama’s first official war (to go with his endless unofficial one) makes these things seem a little extra relevant today. Or maybe it’s just the virality of war and unrest, as seen in Turkey stemming from neighbor Syria. It seems more and more these days that it just takes the power of an idea, the whisper of suggestion, to make realities spread like, well, the wildfires that could use some of this rain that won’t leave us alone.
But do we want to be left alone? Do we have a choice?
At least these days, we know someone is listening. All of you speaking out against the NSA have it wrong. Don’t we all want an audience?
15 June 2013
Tag’s Summer Stage
Big Flats, NY
Baby Don’t You Do It
Letters from the Wasteland
Everything I Need
I’ve Been Delivered
Sixth Avenue Heartache
Closer to You
Misfits and Lovers
Time and Time Again
Untitled (Love Song)
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream (Crimson and Clover outtro)
Black and Blue
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Perfect Blue Buildings (Miller’s Angels outtro)
When I Dream of Michelangelo
Friend of the Devil
A Long December (with A Murder of One)
Return of the Grievous Angel
You Ain’t Going Nowhere
Rain King (with Lippy Kids)
Holiday in Spain