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** COUNTING CROWS, "Across a Wire--Live in New York," DGC

July 12, 1998|Steve Hochman

The essence of the Counting Crows is captured as the band kicks off "Mr. Jones" on the first of these two discs, an audio document from a VH1 "Storytellers" appearance. Quoting the opening lines of the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," Adam Duritz gives a pained, slow take on the "just get an electric guitar" line while the band strums behind him on acoustic instruments--with no acknowledgment of the inherent irony.

The real ironies of this collection--with a second disc taken from a regular concert that was telecast on MTV's "Live at the 10 Spot"--are at the band's own expense. In Disc 1's cozy setting, the accordion-laced acoustic shuffles carry a winning folkiness but lack folksiness. There's no real sense of intimacy here. And when the band does go electric later in Disc 1 and through most of Disc 2, the material rocks harder (and harder than on the Crows' two studio albums), but without new dimension or emotional punch.

Never changing in either setting is Duritz's singing, an over-earnest style underscoring lyrics that scream, as Tori Amos would say, "really deep thoughts." And never does the band take the opportunity to stray outside its familiar Dylan-Band-Van Morrison template. This is one serious band. Too serious.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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