124. Song No. 1,776: “Chelsea,” Counting Crows
Across a Wire: Live in New York City, 1998 (rec. 1997)
More Counting Crows so soon! More perfectly timed winter songs! (Though this one does have a very Winter in New York vibe to it, plus rain. Which makes me want both of those things that I don’t have while I’m stuck with the reality of a pandemic and snow.)
This might actually be my favorite Counting Crows song. It is just so very pretty and twinkly and have I mentioned that I’m a helpless sucker for a good horn section? Adam Duritz’s voice is made for a song like this, soaring and sailing and pleading and wailing like only he can. What would be whiny and plaintive otherwise is, instead, raw and wistful, and “Chelsea” especially benefits from that. It is a song that is so vulnerably human that it needs to be wounded and unpolished to land the way that makes it stunning in its nostalgic, wounded musings.
For an embarrassingly long time, it killed me that there was only a live version of this song. The Counting Crows weren’t just one of my earliest guilty pleasures: They were one of the earliest bands I loved, so I was still learning to appreciate all the things that obviously make live versions the superior versions, as a general rule.
“Chelsea” had no studio counterpart to be compared to unlike, say the gobs of Dave Matthews that I was also shamelessly devouring at the time (and still refuse to feel bad about loving as unironically as I did then and still do now), who has, like, a studio version of one song spawning at least four live iterations that elongate and play with the original in twistingly wondrous, playfully inventive ways. Having those firsthand examples of how a live song is allowed to be humanized and liquid and malleable and lived-in in ways that their polished (and, let’s be honest, comparably sterilized) recorded versions can’t be was one mighty significant lesson in the magic of live recordings. (By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d already gone to enough concerts to have this truth solidified as part of my personal canon of irrefutable facts.) As I got better versed in hearing the nuanced differences that can change a live song from one performance to another and how subtle changes in the way it’s played slowly gives way to the established evolution of a living piece of music, “Chelsea” felt a little more special for only existing to me in this one live recording that was always meant to be intimate, transient and softly cocooned in a moment rather than frozen in amber.
Still. Now I’d be happy with a studio version just for the joy of being able to love this perfect gem of a song two different ways.