• Aarik Danielsen

Counting Crows’ “Hard Candy”



On July 4, 2012, just less than halfway through a 28-song marathon, Counting Crows pauses, then exhales as one.


The band spends our country’s birthday vibrating an all-American space, foundation to rafters: the historic Codfish Hollow barn—now a vessel and a venue—in Maquoketa, eastern Iowa.


Adam Duritz moves to the pulse of a drum machine, back to the microphone, and introduces the next song.


“This is a song about people you really, really meant to keep. And it’s a song about people you throw away,” the singer says, adjusting in-ear monitors. “This is a song about the most beautiful place on Earth, and the ugliest things you’ll ever do. It’s called ‘Miami.’”


 
Concert footage satisfies the grace-filled potential of black-and-white frame after frame, drawing every line and surface, each small gesture and contrast into relief.
 

In 2022, I need all six minutes, two seconds of this performance. Concert footage satisfies the grace-filled potential of black-and-white frame after frame, drawing every line and surface, each small gesture and contrast into relief.


This clip keeps me company more nights than I care to confess. Painfully clear nights and gin-colored ones; nights which squeeze the soul, yielding sighs like declarative sentences, and eleventh-hour moments of reprieve. Nights when the sky hangs electric gray, and ones where pinprick stars and few-and-far-between street lights watch over the unfolded black.


Each measure matters, each scene in miniature grants comfort. Duritz fills precious space between himself and guitarist David Immerglück with a brother’s knowing gaze. Immerglück takes a solo, his fingers first bending notes, then pointing to the audience in time—as if transferring any unspent magic their way.


While he burns, fellow guitarist Dan Vickery strums casually, as if rock and roll is an inborn form of human expression. All throughout, a woman with raven pigtails takes a finespun two-step across the front row. She favors a visiting angel, sent to show us a purer, more excellent way.


As “Miami” chases down its coda, Duritz throws the song to his audience even though it’s not a greatest hit. Together, they form a makeshift gospel choir, summing the letter and spirit of “Thunder Road” in just 10 words: “C’mon, baby / Let’s go shut it down in New Orleans.”


“Miami” anchors the 2002 record “Hard Candy,” the Crows’ fourth. Nine years prior, the Bay Area band staked its corner of Alternative Nation with earnest revolutions. A Van Morrison-meets-R.E.M. vibe framed its soulful debut, “August and Everything After,” creating a modern classic.


Sophomore effort “Recovering the Satellites” is the louder, messier, and perhaps spiritually superior record. My tastes form a strange phenomenon, somehow attaching to the project after an artist’s breakthrough. And I adore “Satellites,” an album of electric guitars, fluttering keyboards and frayed nerves that sounds the size of life to me.


1999’s “This Desert Life” is third in line, an album full of moody blues, burnt oranges and big-screen romances. “Hard Candy” seals the Crows’ first act; they’ve released just three LPs—including a covers set—since. In 2021, the band floated its first balloon in seven years, the excellent but brief EP “Butter Miracle, Suite One.”


The culturally enduring song from “Hard Candy” began its life as a hidden track. A cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” first hit the atmosphere featuring the band alone; a refreshed recording enfolds Vanessa Carlton’s vocal presence, though giving the singer little to do.


“Big Yellow Taxi” is the band’s third-most streamed song on Spotify, overshadowing everything else on “Hard Candy.” Which is a shame. The album shelters some of the band’s most complete songs and abridged pleasures.


The title track opens the record with perfectly jangly guitar and the most autumnal Duritz lyric in a catalog full of them. The lines “On certain Sundays in November / When the weather bothers me / I empty drawers of other summers / Where my shadows used to be” pull an invisible cord through bracing air, and Duritz toward even pale sources of light; through regret into keepsake feelings.


“American Girls” follows, a true murder of Crows with songbird Sheryl supplying harmonies. What might sound sexist in another songwriter’s hands proves complicated, thorny even as it shimmies. Duritz details all the faults within American girls, forever doomed to be pop muses—then lists his own fractures. Maybe they’re “all weather and noise,” but he knows it’s all “pills and ashes under my skin.”


 
In 2002, “Hard Candy” arrived the first time, and I lacked language for its offerings.
 

“If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)” plays the band’s best card, one kind of song masquerading as another. Here, an unchained roots-rocker forms an elegy for a fallen artist and a lament for the limits of love. An all-time Counting Crows moment comes as Charlie Gillingham’s piano hems in a tender Duritz couplet: “Nearly spring in San Francisco / But I cannot feel the sun.”


Affectionate insomnia ballads (“Goodnight L.A.”) and odd translations of Psalm 139:14 follow (“They did a lot of things right on this girl,” Duritz sings on “Butterfly in Reverse”). And few bands craft as gorgeous a four-song run as closes the album—before “Big Yellow Taxi,” of course.


“Black and Blue” captures the band’s signature piano sound, its bittersweet melting with Leona Naess’ backing vocals. “Why Should You Come When I Call?” is a gorgeous Beatles echo. Watch the entire Maquoketa show and “Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)” feels like its zenith.


Gathering the other touring bands for that moment, the song is sexy and celebratory. Lines between revelry and resignation, community and cleaving to make your own way, fade with the night.


Duritz and Co. sing “It’s too late / to get high,” and the line shifts shape with each invocation; what sounds like a matter of fact—only so many hours, after all—becomes a turning of the page, youth giving way to something like adulthood. Elegies as encores.


“Holiday in Spain” is the album’s true farewell, a morning-after musing fashioned from warm, dizzy piano and the want and weave in Duritz’s voice.


In 2002, “Hard Candy” arrived the first time, and I lacked language for its offerings. I remember buying the CD in a big-box store, then pointing toward my friend Nathan’s apartment. Together we listened in full, no words passing between us. What might we have said?


 
There are bands who lead you into the ugliest and most luminous chambers of yourself. When I pray for such bands to exist, I’m almost always praying for Counting Crows.
 

It’s 2022, and I hear what I heard then: songs growing toward lost summer light, three-chord tales of girls named Amy who slip right through your fingers. Now I know enough to recall the full range of weather blowing through these songs. And the sound of a band brokering peace with weariness, converting the dynamics of a decade together into wisdom.


There are some bands you really mean to keep. Some you throw away. Bands whose songs you won’t have time to take in before you die. Bands you almost forget but who, in an act of high fidelity, breach your consciousness. At just the right times, in the strangest places.


And there are bands who lead you into the ugliest and most luminous chambers of yourself. When I pray for such bands to exist, I’m almost always praying for Counting Crows.


These bands stay up with you on nights when you need a little something to slip between you and sleep; nights when no one’s staying up past 10 to remember your name. These nights, bandleaders lift tipsy fingers to conduct synth strings. Then they sing of “Miami” and the ways their music never fails you. Their songs perform three acts, all for your sake.


Make a circle in the sand. Make a halo with your hands. I'll make a place for you to land.



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