Here we have an interesting bill: three bands that started out as hungry ones with blue stars in their eyes that have deliquesced into fleshy middle-aged inurgency, making music not for the kids who once listened (or they once were), but for adults searching for the soundtrack to their undoing.Well, that's not quite fair: Bettie Serveert's Private Suit hasn't had all the kinks ironed out. Tunes like "Unsound" and "Auf Wiedersehen" breathe an autumnal glow that makes growing older sound like growing smarter. Nevertheless, the smoothing over of the ragged Dutch glory of Palomine, the band's classic 1993 debut, has left a hole that's not quite being filled by singer Carol Van Dyk's muted sass, no matter how great her Chrissie Hynde impression.
But at least Bettie Serveert's is a problem worth solving. If your memory stretches across the teen-pop/rap-metal divide, you'll remember that in '93, Counting Crows were as famous as any other band around then, striking cross-market gold with August and Everything After, their debut album. The hit single "Mr. Jones" caused many people to stop and stare, mesmerized by the band's seamless synthesis of its classic-rock influences (The Band, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan) and by Adam Duritz's always-flailing dreadlocks. Parents rocked out with their kids, ferchrissakes. For a few short minutes, it seemed that Duritz and his less memorable sidemen--all of whom looked as if they actually might be in the Band, or maybe just a bar band--were re-igniting straight-ahead rock and roll's not-so-eternal flame, offering Tom Pettyisms to youngsters who'd damned the torpedoes long ago. Recovering the Satellites, the follow-up, extinguished the flicker quickly: The moms and dads split in the face of Gil Norton's shiny Top 40 production and Duritz's attempt to rock out with his self-doubt. (Too bad, 'cause "A Long December," that record's best song and one of the decade's best singles, would've made a great addition to the Big Chill II soundtrack.) That leaves This Desert Life, the bad record the Crows released last year. I don't know who bought it, and I don't know why they did, as it's an overlong, overachieving bid to recapture what August won. "Hanginaround," the record's first single, says more than it means to about the band; the video features a terrible-looking Duritz shrugging his shoulders at the world around him, confused because it's moved past his too-comfortable pablum.
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Live are more interesting, but not a whole lot better. If your memory's really good, you'll remember Mental Jewelry, the record the Pennsylvania band made when they were in high school. It's a strange one: half affecting vitriol, half quasi-spiritual nonsense, flush with a sober, semi-Amish purity of purpose. See "The Beauty of Gray," the impossibly earnest plea to embrace our different colors and jump in the melting pot. Or see "Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)," a title so great I've long forgotten what the song is about. Jewelry is the only record of any consequence Live have made, as subsequent releases fell prey wholeheartedly to the quasi-spiritual nonsense the debut somehow made sort of cool. That they're on tour with Counting Crows is, in a way, the ultimate compromise: No longer will their words, however overwrought, fall onto young, receptive ears; from now on, it's only the aging professionals peering into the soft haze of memory. And they're all half-deaf anyway.