Poetic flagship heroes of the '90s alt-rock boom, Counting Crows rode the waves of success earned by their ubiquitous first few albums into subsequent decades, keeping legions of die-hard fans as they crafted new material to complement their massive early hits. This long-term trajectory is reflected somewhat on the band's fourth official live album, Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, an enthusiastic set recorded on tour in 2012 that offers up a cross section of newer songs and inspired, drawn-out readings of older crowd favorites. Interesting additions to the 15-song set list are the Dylan covers that open and close the show. A spare, haunted version of the already ghostly "Girl from the North Country" finds vocalist Adam Duritz and guitarist David Immerglück taking the technically traditional song into a slower, more tentative take on Dylan's arrangement. Similarly, a rousing full-band jam on "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" is presented with full-on harmonies, breakdowns for crowd singalongs, and a sense of overall abandon and drunken mirth. In between these two bookends, the band offers up a ten-minute reading of its wintry ballad "Round Here," with Duritz vamping at length through the song's somber middle part until bringing the band back in for a strong conclusion. A similar reworking is applied to "Rain King," stretched into a more loose, rambling version with a dynamic range extended greatly from the original. Crows originals like "I Wish I Was a Girl" and "Four Days" are joined by a folky cover of the Grateful Dead's classic outlaw romper "Friend of the Devil," also delivered in a softer, alt-folk style with glowing harmonies. At this point in their career, it's refreshing to see some experimentation and stretching out from Counting Crows in their live set. It would have been far easier to offer up potentially stale live versions of their greatest hits, but Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow is a far cry from the novelty act that the band could easily, and profitably, devolve into. Instead, Counting Crows sound both excited and at home in their own sound, turning in rock-solid performances of songs they've played a thousand times with the same energy as when they began.
Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow Review
by Fred Thomas