Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nobody Smokes Games Anymore

The one and only Stilts providing the impetus for this title as I see him for the first time in months and he promptly critiques my cigar choice (a very rare dabbling of mine). It was nice to see him, too.

Just to get it out of the way for family members and concerned friends who were unaware I enjoy cigars, I want to quantify just how rare these occasions are. I've smoked a cigar a total of four times in my life, including the time referenced above. Once casually playing poker, once at Lake George, once on the porch of the 727 to celebrate graduation, and now this Counting Crows show, so we're not talking "I only smoke on the weekends in social settings, so I don't have a problem," we're genuinely talking about special occasions, of which this concert fit the bill. If you don't believe me, you ought to see me hold one; I'm definitely not the smoothest with it.

Anyway, this past weekend sent me on what I would consider my equivalent of a modest vacation as I hopped to the sometimes aptly named "Dirty Jersey" to visit a couple of buds and more importantly, see the Counting Crows. Initially, I had only planned to set up camp at the Madden house, courtesy of Where Did You Get That Corn's own, Dennis Madden, see the show, get some sleep and hit the trail on Monday morning to the island so long they had to name it after an adjective. However, chance would have it that both Denny (different person than Dennis) and I had off on Monday and seeing as how he was a comparatively short 45 minutes away, I decided to visit with him as well.

With construction going on atop the George Washington Bridge, I decided to take my life in my hands take the BQE towards Jersey, and I couldn't be more pleased with the decision. On a clear day the BQE affords some of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. I don't want to get overly sentimental about it, for fear of over paraphrasing Sufjan Stevens, but it really is a kind of like a time capsule of America where you see kind of the past and present of innovation and Americana come together on one really busted up and borderline poorly planned roadway. There's a pretty obvious metaphor there, but me recycling it won't make it original. I recommend the journey to anyone.

That feat of urban scenery aside, the rest of the trip to Dennis' was pretty uneventful. I pulled up and we went about our tradition of PJ Wellahan's (spelling likely wrong) before loitering around his slice of suburbia and hopping the Patco to America's capital of something unpleasant, Camden New Jersey and the conversely beautiful SBC concert venue. Kevin, Brett, and his sister, Caitlin, were in attendance taking in the whole of the xpn fest, which the Crows were closing out that evening. Great to see Kevin again, with a great tan, and of course, Brett, with his less flattering sun-induced freckles. (That'll show him.) Sadly, the confines of their work schedules, combined with a rather lukewarm interest sent the pair to the exits before the Crows took the stage, but nonetheless, great to see them for a spell.

Now to talk about the show. The show, quite simply, was a revelation. In hindsight (all two seconds of it) that word choice might be a little over dramitic (In this blog? Imagine that.) but that's really what it was. It opened my eyes to facets of the Counting Crows' music, and also my biases as a concert goer. In terms of their music, I went in expecting a sound not to be found on their albums. Youtube clips and relatively passionate fandom had led me to expect a sound only kind of based on the groundwork of their studio sessions. A sound that kind of took on the form of almost a spoken word reading where the band provides the background of familiar chords and rhythms so that Adam Duritz can kind of take the sound and song wherever he wants to go. To an extent, I was right, as I've never seen a performer interact with the words he was saying a passionately as Duritz (though, to be fair, most frontmen are also playing a guitar that prevents truly "cutting loose" for lack of a better term), but I was floored by the true musicianship behind him. Don't get me wrong, all you have to do is listen to the albums to know the band is talented, but the amount of solos and improvisation taking place on stage was a real surprise and well...revelation. The best way I can categorize it, is to say remember when I was upset Incubus played rote tracks of their greatest hits? That's what I expected from CC and was totally thrown a curveball of musicianship from vocals to bass. Very pleasantly surprised in that regard.

The Counting Crows also provided something I've never encountered as a concert goer. I realized that I am a concert attendee of extremes. With Wilco being perhaps the only exception, I've either gone to shows where you either sit down and shut up (Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Bon Iver) or you dance all night like an absolute fiend until they kick you out, or Keller Williams plays so long that you concede defeat and hobble out of the venue exhausted (Incubus, Phish, DMB, etc.) Sure, all those high energy groups have cool down numbers here and there to keep the crowd and themselves fresh (except Oasis, I recall that being an hour and a half of face melting with no training wheels for those ill prepared), but largely the band comes out, jazzes you up, pumps the breaks a few times to avoid the burn out and finishes with a flourish. The Counting Crows are the first group I've seen where people are just as excited to here the ballads as the jams, A Long December being the classic example. My point is, while the band's energy was undoubtedly high, the show was filled with dynamic shifts that kind of served to temper the intensity in the crowd. You'd get a couple of upbeat numbers and then the band would pull the plug and play a slower song the crowd would be just as happy to hear. As a result, a lot of the show left people just kind of standing and watching the group. (Novel idea, I know.) The result of that is a very disinterested looking audience when in fact the opposite was true.

I was disappointed not to get "Cowboys" or "Round Here" but "Another Horsedreamer's Blues" and Rain King" were absolute showstoppers and hearing "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" and "Ghost Train" back to back was a heck of a consolation. My only lament is that the group waited until the very end of the show to truly blow the roof off the place and give the audience license to groove. With "Rain King" and "Hanginaround" to close out the main set, I made up for about an hour and 15 minutes worth of immobility and likely danced the length of half the lawn, but just like that, they were gone. I guess the goal of every show is to leave the them wanting more, but I feel like the Crows did that to the point of annoyance. Suffice to say they really peaked in the late going.

The true end of the show came with a genuinely classy mention of a local charity fighting to put an end to physical abuse of women and empower victims and then a pretty genuine appeal for those in attendance to vote and take pride in their nation and be the change and whatnot. Those moments always seem to strike funny chords with me. I mean, far be it for me to say that musicians shouldn't hype their causes and what they think is important, but it's hard for musicians and celebrities not to come off a little preachy when they, in their comfortable lifestyle, stand atop a very literal pulpit (or podium, I guess is a better word) and appeal to the masses to change the world. With that said, I think Adam seemed pretty darn sincere and when the concert closed with "This Land Is Your Land" I won't exactly call it moving, but it wasn't as trite as it could have been. I see a lot of similarities in our stage presence and even writing style. He seems to have a good heart and head on his shoulders. A great show from a group I'd jump at the chance to see again.

The visit with Denny was equally memorable and quite a gift to tack on to a great Sunday, but largely untypable, just because on paper all we did was go to BWW (really into acronyms today), where Denny was reminded of the day of the week, and shoot some hoops on both wet and dry areas of a basketball court, but I share a unique friendship with both Denny and Dennis, where we can do next to nothing and still leave with memories that will last a lifetime. Happy to spend that time with them and I look forward to them and other Jersey, PA, and Maryland friends making the journey to NY for a good time. *cough*

Song of the Day: Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)-Monsters Of Folk
Jazz Song of the Day: Oop-Bop-Sh'bam-Dizzy Gillespie

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