Initially I found this performance an odd choice for a Counting Crows live album. As much as the title 'New Amsterdam' taken from the establishment where lead singer Adam Duritz and Mr. Jones watched girls dance and drink alcoholic beverages, taken from Counting Crows most known song 'Mr. Jones', using a particular place and adding the album title to it, to go along with the fact that the live setting is Amsterdam, I find a bit silly. It's almost like they were trying to bring out an official bootleg to follow along the lines of the many thousand unofficial ones that are available.
It even sounds kind of like a bootleg. There's no fade on either ends of the CD, and the change between the final track 'Holiday In Spain' and the bonus track from a different live setting is very rough and there's no attempt to trick the listener into thinking that there's a difference in venue. Where it certainly isn't bootleg is in sound quality. It sounds great, nothing gets lost really and Duritz's voice is clear and strong for all to hear.
Upon listening to the first track the famous 'Rain King', it dawns on you why they might just have chosen this venue for such a prestigious package as an official live CD...'Rain King' which is one of the more upbeat songs in the Counting Crows catalogue, at least in pace, has been slowed down to the tempo of a 'Goodnight Elisabeth'. Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing. In a way. It sounds superb, but what you get from this is that Duritz is clearly not feeling the song for what it was, much like you got the same feeling on 'Mr. Jones' from their Across The Wire first disc where Duritz changed the lyrics about wanting to be a big star to being f*cked up because his wishes came true.
You also wonder if it is really the first track as it's such a touching moment which in most live performances would be left while the middle or end. Believe it or not, this works extremely well and probably as good as an 'Angel Of The Silences' would have.
Throughout the duration of the CD, Duritz's heart is very much on his sleeve. This is good as this is when Counting Crows sound at their best and the wonderful lyrics can truly take on the feelings that they initially were meant for. Even on such a bouncy song as 'Richard Manuel Is Dead', Duritz puts more sensitivity into the vocals than on record and it seems to make a big difference to the song. This is just one reason why the Crows are an essential live band...
The band back him up, and pretty much play as they normally would on the records, and they're almost there so if Duritz falls over from sheer pain they'll be there to grab him, that's how emotionally draining this record feels. So when he actually sings on songs that have always been about the sensitivity of the matter, Durtiz is simply heartbreaking. The likes of 'Goodnight LA' and the wonderful wrenching rendition of 'Perfect Blue Buildings' a nearly forgotten classic, make for intense listening.
You can wonder if Duritz was having an off-night with the old emotions or if he's always like this. Listening to their first live album from pretty much 10 years ago, he didn't sound this discontent, nowhere near in fact. This makes for Counting Crows most awkward and heart-wrenching album since 'Recovering The Satellites'.
What this record ultimately shows is that Duritz as of three years ago seemed like a pretty unhappy guy and boy can you tell. Gladly he puts everything into his performance which adds and makes for some wonderfully effecting moments. The new song 'Hazy' is also a wonderful moment, albeit a short one. Beautiful.
When Duritz does finally let go and gives it his all on the likes of their unusual rendition of 'Hanginaround' he sounds like he's been reborn, and it's here that he sounds the most happy. After that it'd probably be the title track of their last album 'Hard Candy', their best album to date. A touching albeit traditional rendition of 'Holiday In Spain' concludes things for the gig in style.
In recent times Adam Duritz hasn't felt in the least bit happy about entering a studio. Despite this he claims he has some songs, and it would suggest by his feelings about his own music right now that they might be more of what you hear on 'New Amsterdam'. I questioned whether this would be a worthwhile purchase for Counting Crows fans, and the honest answer is now a firm yes. It's their best live album, with their widest range of songs to date. Some of their career highlights might be missing, but on pure emotion the other songs carry this through in pure style.
Whenever the boys decide to re-enter the studio again in the future, if at all, I wish them the best and despite the wonderful music that the emotions that Duritz wears so powerfully on his sleeves helps to create, I hope he finds a better frame of mind and some happiness in his life.
For now, this is an essential purchase for Counting Crows purists.