I'm occasionally reminded there have been only a handful of great debut records in pop music history and I gladly throw Counting Crows' August & Everything After into that conversation. It was remastered and expanded a couple years ago with bonus tracks and a second disc featuring a live show recorded in Paris at the end of the August tour in 1994.
Timelessness is one measure of an album's greatness and this package gives us an uncommon way to measure the timelessness of August by presenting the album live in its entirety, performed by a group of musicians who have lived and lived with these songs for 18 years. It's quickly apparent in August & Everything After - Live At Town Hall these songs have lost none of their vitality or emotional impact. They were great when first committed to tape and they remain great because the struggles and conflict at the heart of these songs expressed through the lyrics of frontman Adam Duritz are universal and it's clear at times throughout this performance some of these wounds still haven't healed inside him.
Crows fans have long known Duritz and the band whose lineup has altered slightly from the lineup that recorded the album take liberties with arrangements and lyrics of their songs. Their best songs are great as studio compositions, but in concert they're vehicles for Duritz to go wherever the moment takes him and the band has learned to follow him to those places.
Performing one's debut album in its entirety is prone to evoke some level of nostalgia and in some of the between-song banter from Duritz, you catch a hint of that but this is not a maudlin, mundane exercise of a band running low on energy or ideas. They push these songs to new places, extending some and adding new instruments to the arrangements. He improvises lyrics when it pleases him and occasionally sprinkles bits of other songs his own and others throughout the night.
"Round Here" is combined with "Raining In Baltimore" and it's tough for me to be critical because it works really well. It's just that "Round Here" is arguably the most important song on the record and part of me that wants to hear it played "straight." "Mr. Jones" remains true to its recognizable form from radio and video, although it feels heartier without rocking harder.
We should all be grateful someone was rolling tape and film on this night for "Perfect Blue Buildings"alone, because it is staggering as is "Anna Begins," the latter of which is one of the five most emotionally brutal songs in my burgeoning music collection. I don't know if it destroys anyone else that way but I can barely breathe when I really invest myself in it. I'm more likely to drive after downing a fifth of rum than while listening to "Anna." It is beefed up on this night, bolstered by great mandolin work by David "Immy" Immerglück in the intro and throughout before Duritz dives heart-first into this crippling song.
I won't spoil all the surprises but I will point listeners to "Rain King" and Murder Of One," where special improvisations occur. Some of you will see/hear them coming particularly if you watch the interview with Duritz and Charlie Gillingham that is a special feature on the DVD and Blu-ray but those opting just for the CD might not see them coming.
Jimmy Buffett named one of his compilations Songs You Know By Heart, and for thousands of people my age that's an apt description of these songs, but the real joy of Town Hall is exploring and rediscovering them. This is the same band that brought them to us, except it's not. These are the same songs we fell in love with, but not really. They're not the same, and neither are we. The legacy of August & Everything After has been secure for some time now but Town Hall bolsters it and should be eagerly snapped up by anyone whoever allowed it to become a part of their life.
I'd like to consider this package in the context of the current music business climate before we close. Some service sectors of the economy go out of their way to find out what their customers want for the express purpose of providing said service. The record industry seems intent on doing the exact opposite. This package is being offered on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray, and they're all sold separately. Some may complain at the prospect of having to buy things "more than once" but you're not being forced via packaging to buy something you don't want or need. You can have audio, video, or both. The live program on CD and Blu-ray is identical, although the Blu-ray offers us an in-depth interview with Duritz and Charlie Gillingham about the making of the record and its legacy. Choice- that's what music fans want and record labels remain defiantly, willfully blind to it.