Ahead of their return to the UK in April after a four year absence, Counting Crows release yet another live album. From some bands this would seem lazy, especially as their last 'proper' album was all cover versions, but over the years Counting Crows have built a reputation for their impressive live performances. Lead singer Adam Duritz has always brought something different to the songs on stage, with his enthusiastic story telling and sometimes intense performance, alongside a constant altering of the songs’ arrangements.
Most of the time that is hard to capture in a recording, but there is always something to discover with each interpretation with sprinklings of mini cover versions during many of their own tracks. It’s a trick repeated here with a splash of Elbow appearing on the excellent Rain King from their debut August & Everything After. Only one other track appears from the same album and that’s the epic Round Here, a staple of their live shows – and it’s dragged out to a lengthy 10 minutes here with lyrics from Van Morrison woven into the middle section.
These moments underline why Counting Crows have made a more lasting impression on their fans. Duritz's lyrics have always been more engaging and his unique vocal gives them that X Factor that the TV talent shows will never be able to find. Duritz describes the 2012 tour that these moments are taken from as one of the most adventurous the band has ever been on, and they are certainly sounding in top form.
Much of the material featured here is taken from the aforementioned covers album, Underwater Sunshine, with The Romany Rye’s Untitled (Love Song) sounding terrific, while covers of Coby Brown (Hospital) and Teenage Fanclub (Start Again) are slightly more pedestrian. Overall the sound is far more Americana than some of the early widescreen music the band wrote – a direction taken since 2008’s Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. From that album Sundays is given a funky take and precedes the country-tinged Mercury from Recovering the Satellites.
But the best moments come from Hard Candy’s Up All Night and Carriage – two of the more reflective songs from a record described by Duritz here as a ‘late night album’. Hard Candy was a great pop-rock record but since then the band have steered away from the mainstream and set-lists have taken a more rootsy feel. Echoes captures that sound perfectly and is a great taster for their long-awaited UK shows.
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