Counting Crows@Newcastle O2 Academy, November 4 2014

Nobody does angst quite like Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows. The San Francisco vocalist is to melancholy what Des O’Connor is to cheese.

But he’s also rivalling Orpheus in the melody stakes and that magical light and shade combination sets Duritz apart from most singers.

Duritz defines the Counting Crows with his effortless, harmonious, unique delivery and last night, he was in fine form as the Californian septet treated a sell-out Academy crowd to a stunning show. 

The Counting Crows don’t follow the rules, they make their own up and so technical expertise and crystal clarity breathe easily alongside the spontaneity, improvisation and liquid set-lists which are themes of their live act.

“What will they open with?” the girl next to me asked. Having allegedly done my research, I told her before informing her of a few other songs they’d be playing in their near two-hour set.

Of course, I was wrong on all counts. The Counting Crows are music’s tinkermen, predictable only in the professionalism of all seven musicians on stage.

So no Omaha, no Round Here and no American Girls. It hardly mattered. The band, despite releasing just two self-penned albums since Hard Candy in 2002, boast a rich back catalogue.

Naturally, Mr Jones and Rain King from their debut August And Everything brought the house down but for me, it was their latest compositions which were a highlight.

Scarecrow and Dislocation from this year’s Somewhere Under Wonderland are rousing rockers while Palisades Park, (Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joel) – one of three encores – might just be the best song Duritz has ever composed.

In the past, I’ve been critical of artists who play cover versions when they have so much of their own stuff to choose from – I never understood why Neil Young encored with The Beatles’ Day In The Life, excellent as that song is, when he had hundreds of his own songs to select.

The Counting Crows have been guilty of this habit too but on this occasion, I forgive them. Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Taxi has become as much a staple for them as Whitesnake playing Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.

And Start Again, a little known song by Scottish alt rock band Teenage Fanclub and featuring on 2009’s covers album Underwater Sunshine, was a surprising yet welcome inclusion.

Ian Murtagh