Best Band Ever: Counting Crows

It’s tough enough, living in Omaha. But then you gotta deal with overmalted out-of-towners leaning on a jukebox, jamming in a penny (or however much 10 songs costs there), and picking a tune about how you live Somewhere in Middle America.

In New York, it’s “if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” In Omaha, it’s “I think you better turn your ticket in–get your money back at the door.” On the bright side, at least someone’s still listening to Counting Crows.

After the Crows released four albums between 1993 and 2002 and went platinum more times than Lil Wayne‘s dentist, the band’s been essentially irrelevant to pop culture for the past decade–so long that it’s tough to remember just how important (seriously!) Counting Crows was to the music scene in the ’90s, even outside of “Mr. Jones.”

And after we spent some time re-exploring the catalog and wondering if we could have ever pulled off the white-guy-dreads look, we realized the time had come to ask…could Counting Crows be the Best Band Ever?

Exhibit A: They Really Kick Ass Live

Keep in mind, this band has sold more than 20 million records, and not all to your dad. But through all that, and ever since they came together in 1991, this has been a band that never really stopped attacking it in concert.

Sitting somewhere between, say, Taylor Swift–where everything pretty much sounds like it does on the album and you’re performing with braids in your hair–and The Grateful Dead–where you riff for 36 hours with braids in your hair–Counting Crows have managed to stay attached to their fan base by keeping them on their toes. Even if most of them are using walkers now.

They’ll add verses to songs, from mixing in their own songs into others to adding, say, Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” into the middle of “Rain King,” meaning that missing a show occasionally means missing something you’ll never, ever see again. Like a bathed Adam Duritz.

Even when they play it straight, they still reinvent their songs. Duritz voice sharpens, as he pours emotion into the audience, essentially breaking down the “fourth wall,” as they call it in Hollywood and blogs written by douchebags.

The best example may have come in 2008, when, as his life crumbled like the dream buildings in “Inception,” Duritz performed “Round Here” in the Howard Stern studio. From both personal and listener accounts, it was the best version of the 15-year-old song that they’d ever heard.

And he did it in a f***ing bunny suit.

Exhibit B: They’re All About Teamwork

Dating back to the very first Crows album, August and Everything After (1993), the band’s kept good company.

Working with them on that first effort was T-Bone Burnett, the producer and music legend who won a Grammy for the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, among others, and followed that up with an Academy Award for the very badass “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart.”

From there, the band and/or Duritz have joined musical forces with, in no particular order: Ryan Adams, Ben Folds, Live, The Wallflowers, Vanessa Carlton

And it just gets better outside the studio.

Over the course of the ’90s, while everybody else was collecting POGS and restocking on eyeliner, Duritz had a veritable turnstile of Hollywood elite at the door of his bedroom. Through that entryway have passed quite a parade: two-thirds of the females on “Friends” (Lisa Kudrow was the lone holdout), Mary-Louise Parker, Winona Ryder…

Then, two years ago, at 45 years old, he was linked to then-23-year-old Emmy Rossum, who’s currently in an on-again, off-again relationship with her clothes on the Showtime topless drama “Shameless.”

Exhibit C: Going Social

Finding out there’s no Santa Claus? We could get over that. But finding out that @barackobama isn’t actually maintained all day by the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World? That took some time to deal with.

But if you’re one of the 1.2 million followers of @countingcrows on Twitter, you’re dealing with Duritz directly. Maybe you sent in a cover for an impromptu album of covers he made this spring. Maybe you’re following his posts about his battles with addiction. Or maybe you’re just trying to snag a date like Rossum did (apparently they met on Twitter, which explains the paleness).

But whatever the case, when you tweet at the Crows, you’re not getting an intern…although it is refreshing to know that they’re making sure White House interns don’t have too much free time on their hands anymore.

Exhibit D: The Man Known as Immy

Chances are, David Immerglück–Immy, as he’s otherwise known–is the best guitar-, mandolin-, pedal steel-, keyboard- and electric sitar-playing musician of the last two decades that you’ve never heard of.

Immerglück, whose name translates in German to “Endless Luck,” resembles what the Vikings would have given to music, had they spent their days feeling up six-strings instead of eating lunch from the skulls of Britons.

And he does everything. In addition to the instruments above, he also sings. Frequently, he’ll even play backup to bands opening for Counting Crows on tour.

He started as a session musician for the group, after befriending Duritz during their younger years in San Francisco. But ever since 1999′s This Desert Life, Immerglück’s been a permanent member of the band, in part because nobody has the balls to tell him to get off stage.

Exhibit E: The Mrs. Potter Trilogy

This is a good one.

We can all agree that “Patch Adams” was the kind of movie that you’d willingly sit through on an airplane or while trying to get your eighth-grade girlfriend to hold your hand. But, as the story goes, Duritz couldn’t take his eyes off it. And while we’re sure he’s as fond of Robin Williams as the rest of us, legend has it that he spent about two hours staring at Monica Potter.

After that, he wrote an ode to her–a person he saw ON A MOVIE SCREEN–with “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” (This Desert Life), which might be one of Counting Crows’ best songs and certainly the longest. Then, one night, he found himself face-to-face with the object of the song (who we’re still assuming, because it’s a consensus at this point largely because Potter doesn’t seem to have ever really denied it), and played it for her on a porch.

She caved. Two more songs followed on This Desert Life about the romance. The first, “Kid Things”-–which shows up as a bonus track if you listen forever to the last song–tells the story of puppy love with lyrics like this:

“We’re just kids / we spend all night on the phone / It’s a kid thing / but I sleep better when I’m not alone,” and “I know you wanna say no no no / It feels much better in the summer / well if it isn’t warm where you’re sittin’ / then kitten come on in out of the cold.”

Well, pretty soon life caught up with both of them. Then came “Four Days,” the song about life apart and their eventual breakup, which Duritz described in concert as what happens “exactly four days after she leaves.”

Which leads us to…

Exhibit F: They Were Emo Way Before Emo Was Cool

You want rage? Counting Crows had rage. You want high-pitched screaming and self-flagellation? They had that, too. You want Saves The Day-style lyrics about bloodletting? Well friend, you’ve come to the right place.

A sampler pack:

“Angels of the Silences” (Recovering the Satellites, 1996)
I dream of Michelangelo when I’m lying in my bed
Little angels hang above my head and read me like an open book
Suck my blood, break my nerve offer me their arms

“Ghost Train” (August & Everything After, 1993)
I rode a ladder that climbed across the nation
50 million feet of earth between the buried and me

“Daylight Fading” (Recovering the Satellites, 1996)
Waiting for the moon to come and light me up inside
And I am waiting for the telephone to tell me I’m alive
Well I heard you let somebody get their fingers into you
It’s getting cold in California
I guess I’ll be leaving soon

Duritz, a pretty damn good songwriter, might have stretched too far at times–”Hop on my choo-choo / I’ll be your engine driver in a bunny suit / If you dress me up in pink and white / We may be just a little fuzzy ’bout it later tonight,” reads like something from the Hallmark-”Dateline” Collaboration Series. But you can’t ever accuse him of mailing it in.

Photos: Getty Images