Sound — 10
There are plenty of live concert CDs that start with an old cliche: you hear the audience faintly until the volume is gradually increased and the sound of hysterical fans is revealed. But Counting Crows never have been your typical band, so it's not too shocking when its latest concert CD gets down to business right away. New Amsterdam Live at Heineken Hall does not begin with all the cheers and big introductions usually associated with a concert's start, but instead opts to just get the music going. Oddly enough, the first track, Rain King, is performed acoustically by the band (vocalist Adam Duritz, guitarists David Bryson, Dan Vickrey, and David Immergluck, drummer Jim Bogios, and keyboardist Charles Gillingham). While Rain King was one of the band's hits, the decision to go unplugged is a daring one. There isn't anything wrong with the performance, but as the opening number, it does not come off quite as memorably as the other songs on the CD. However, if the band's mission was to build energy as the concert progresses, the mission was accomplished. The rest of the record is full of vibrant live renditions of their classic songs, utilizing an assortment of instruments that prove the band's amazing talent. On the surface, many of Counting Crows' songs could be described as your basic, laid-back pop rock, but that would be ignoring the multiple musical layers that are added to the band's compositions. The concert at Heineken Music Hall provides excellent audio quality, allowing listeners to hear every little note picked on the guitar and every key hit on the organ. One of the standout tracks is Catapult, which features a building momentum that explodes with a melodic, driving guitar solo. Even during the chorus, which many bands rely on chords to carry, various guitar licks can be heard, making it a lot more interesting to listen to. The sound system is also exceptional at giving each instrument a chance to be heard and appreciated. Omaha showcases the versatility of Counting Crows, featuring a mandolin and accordion that are interwoven throughout the song. While the tune is an older one, it definitely deserved to be added to the set list. There just aren't too many bands that are willing to risk their cool factor with a mandolin and accordion -- or at least take the time to learn the instruments. Even with only a piano and vocals that band can make a memorable song -- perhaps even the best one on New Amsterdam Live. Hazy is a stark contrast to the CD's other songs with its intimate, simple approach. If the band would have chosen to put other instruments to Hazy, it is very possible that the song would have lost all of its melancholy and sadness. Perhaps what makes this song even more powerful is the fact that Duritz had never written down the lyrics before and only really co-wrote the song with Gemma Hayes about a week before.
Lyrics — 10
While there are plenty of musically interesting elements to New Amsterdam Live, one of the most appealing aspects of Counting Crows songs are the storytelling lyrics. The songs don't merely convey emotions, but often involve characters, settings, and plots. A perfect example is in St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream when Duritz sings, Well Carrie's down in her basement all toe shoes and twin; With the girl in the mirror who spins when she spins; Where you think you will end up to the state that you're in; Your reflection approaches and then recedes again. The words go way beyond penning down one's emotions, but it actually paints the portrait of a specific individual's life. The band is also strong at maintaining a theme throughout a song. In Four White Stallions, they take a chance of sounding repetitive by describing various things in fours. Although the word four does repeat throughout, it doesn't get tiring due to the fact that Duritz has so many strong visual images to back it up. Duritz sings, She had four white stallions coming up around the bend; Four strong angels at her command to send; Four more seasons, for all that's broken to mend. Whereas many bands may pour out their emotions in their lyrics, Counting Crows manages to go one step further by using descriptive literary devices. Even if a song does not musically come through in the concert, you can almost always rely on hearing a line or two from each one that is unique and memorable.
Overall Impression — 10
The band proves why it deserves to be a household name on New Amsterdam Live at Heineken Music Hall, showcasing a variety of instruments, sounds, and lyrics that you won't hear on your average radio station. While starting out the show with the acoustic Rain King was a gutsy move, it could have perhaps made more of an impact if it was stripped as bare as Hazy. But all in all, the band provides a well-rounded performance that is both lyrically and musically impressive. While the CD does not have the classic Mr. Jones or Round Here, there is a good mix of the old and the new. And the band probably did not feel the need to repeat themselves, given that the 1998 live CD Across A Wire: Live In New York City already included the expected hits. There is an obvious intimate feeling that the CD exudes, and most Counting Crows fans will likely be pleased with the latest offering. Duritz sings as passionately as ever, and the band's musical back-up echoes the sentiment. Sure, there won't be loud guitars and a huge sing-along at the end, but you go away feeling a different kind of satisfaction. And if you've heard many a live CD, then you might just be ready to throw your arms around New Live Amsterdam.