Counting Crows & The Hold Steady

US rockers have Andrew Johnston counting the minutes

The omens aren’t good. Outside the Odyssey, the rain is lashing down and a shaven-headed security guard is barking his mantra: ‘Once your ticket has been scanned there is NO readmission. There is NO cash machine in the building and you will NOT be able to get out for a cigarette.’

It’s a dispiriting start to an evening which has already been called off once. Counting Crows’ UK and Irish tour was postponed from December 2008 due to ‘unexpected personal and work commitments in the USA’. To the band’s credit, the dates were promptly rescheduled, but one glance inside the two-thirds-empty arena suggests they might have been better off staying home.

The word is that fewer than 3,500 tickets have been sold for tonight’s concert. I also hear that a local newspaper’s competition to win five pairs of tickets attracted just three entries. Mere rumours, perhaps, but what’s undeniable is the absolute lack of atmosphere – both offstage and on.

There are seven members of Counting Crows, but even hardcore fans might have trouble discerning keyboardist Charlie Gillingham from bassist Millard Powers, or guitarists David Bryson, Dan Vickrey and David Immerglück from one another. They’re a bland bunch, a situation not helped by the fact they all seem to be murdering the same couple of chords in every song.

Lead vocalist Adam Duritz, meanwhile, has struggled with depression and a dissociative disorder, which could explain his erratic stage performance. Behind the scenes, the chubby, dreadlocked musician might be the nicest guy in the world, but in front of an audience he’s arrogant, cranky and dull.

Duritz leads his band – and it’s clear this is his band – through an hour and a half of sub-grunge, semi-folk and quasi-pop. There are no memorable tunes - even 1994’s number-one hit ‘Mr. Jones’ is a dirge.

Between songs, the frontman mumbles about the pain of seeing yourself in gossip magazines. All Duritz wants to do is have fun, we’re told – but those pesky tabloids won’t stop linking him with famous actresses. (He has previously dated Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Winona Ryder.)

Whining about such stuff to a credit-crunched Belfast crowd on a wet weeknight was never going to win many points. Later, while perched at a piano, Duritz squanders any dregs of goodwill by berating a roadie for not bringing his microphone stand fast enough.

Counting Crows? I was counting the minutes. The only remarkable thing about this group is that their record sales suggest it’s possible to fool at least 20 million of the people 18 years (and counting) of the time.

Earlier, openers The Hold Steady had proved they wouldn’t know a catchy riff or chorus if it rushed the stage, knocked the keyboard player’s flat cap off, yanked his ‘tache and slapped the singer’s balding bonce, Benny Hill-style. Are the Brooklyn-based five-piece really ‘the future of rock ‘n’ roll’ as everyone from Jools Holland to Daniel Radcliffe has claimed? God, I hope not.

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