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Set Visit: The Early Crow Gets the Quiche – Breakfast with Counting Crows

Alex Casey visited the Breakfast set this morning to enjoy an intimate concert with hairy guitar chaps Counting Crows. //

This morning I woke up early, got in a big yellow taxi (small gold Uber) and made my way to TVNZ to watch Counting Crows play live on Breakfast. My Uber driver Plamen was keen to learn more about this mysterious musical event:

Plamen: “Are they a local band?”
Alex: “No.”
Plamen: “What kind of music do they play?”
Alex: “I only really know the song on the Shrek soundtrack.”
Plamen: “Do they take drugs?”
Alex: “I’m not sure.”
Plamen: “Well they’ll have their eyes on a young thing like you.”

Although Plamen seemed ultimately optimistic about my pending Breakfast vs Counting Crows experience, I was anticipating something very peculiar and possibly harrowing. I find it very hard to know, at 7am, if you are actually on your way to a small scale Counting Crows concert in the presence of Rawdon Christie, or still in a cheese nightmare from sleeps gone by.

My main interaction with the music of ‘The Crow’ was during the end-of-year musical for my intermediate jazz school. It was a completely unauthorised Shrek dance extravaganza. For the big finalé, a 12-year-old me was at the front of the line of wellwishers cavorting around the happily married, 100% copyright infringed, Shrek and Fiona. The Counting Crows anthem ‘Accidentally in Love’ rang through the hall, and I waited for my cue. “So I said what’s the problem baby,” Adam Duritz sang. It was time to start dancing. Or so I thought.

After a sashay ball change, way too many jazz hands and ‘big arms’, I realised just how off the mark I had been. None of the other dancers had moved a single muscle, remaining frozen in their poses of good tidings (aside from the uncontrollable shaking of laughter at my expense). Fake Shrek and Fake Fiona hadn’t even got to the top of the aisle yet. I had come in way too early, and subsequently ruined the counterfeit DreamWorks wedding for everyone, right there in the Masterton Town Hall in 2003.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that my knowledge of the Counting Crows is mostly limited to that traumatic moment – and any mention of them still hurtles me back to that horrifying solo sashay-ball-change in front of the Masterton mayor. Till today. Edging around the very much under-construction TVNZ building, I couldn’t help but notice the surrounding trees peeking through the scaffolding.

They really did pave paradise and put up a parking lot, I mused.

Inside TVNZ, I was ushered down a corridor to stand outside the Crows’ green room, peering in intermittently like a rabid Donkey trying to get into Shrek’s swamp. Ali Pugh stormed past me, and I was impressed and intimidated that a woman of her slight build could convincingly ‘storm’ – even on carpet. She’s a damn deity. “Look, all of the Crows are trying to share one bagel,” Lucy the publicist joked.

As it turns out, she wasn’t joking at all. A catering disaster had meant that all the Crows’ sound guys arrived first thing that morning and raided the green room, well before even one of 23 Crows had left the nest. The result was one sad quiche rotating in the microwave and one bagel in the middle of the table. An angry man with an accent leaned out to say “you’re not here to bring us anything or do anything for us are you?” I didn’t like his tone. He was clearly hungry for quiche and taking it out on us poor hall dwellers.

The Crows were getting mic’d up under their pleathers, so we shimmied a little further down the hall to give them some space. The lead singer, Adam Duritz, aka Sideshow Bob made flesh, brushed past me. I had a Harry Potter burning-scar moment, and suddenly the Pugh-resistant carpet transformed into the hard wooden boards of that fateful Masterton stage. Before I passed out from embarrassment, another Crow followed, his glittering bindi under the fluorescent light snapping me right back into the present moment.

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Passing a fast-paced Peter Williams, we waited by the door to the Breakfast studio. Somehow again, we managed to obstruct the Crows’ flight path. Literally sandwiched amongst a band meeting, I got the inside scoop on how their musical decisions are made “VERSE OF EARTHQUAKE DRIVER THEN BRIDGE OF EARTHQUAKE DRIVER” Bindi Crow bellowed, reinforced by Sideshow Crow. And so it went.

In the studio, I counted six or seven Crows, but there could have been much much more. The backdrop emblazoned with their faces didn’t help the headcount, that’s for sure. There was also just as many cameramen as there were band members, which made for an unusual dynamic. At moments during rehearsal, it looked like they were lining up for some sort of dystopian battle. Seven cameramen. Seven Crows. Only one winner.

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Post-rehearsal (seemed to go well, quite loud, Bindi Crow wanted the piano turned down), the Breakfast team took a phoner with a woman called Annette Martin. What it was about? I’ll never know, the studio sat in silence as Ali Pugh had a one-sided chat with Annette. Sam Wallace happily snapped pics of the Crows, whilst Rawdon tried to take a selfie with them from his desk before throwing to the news.

Peter Williams appeared out of nowhere, perched on the edge of the Breakfast desk with a sneakily altered background behind him. TV is a bloody lie everyone, nobody is ever more than 1m away from anyone. It’s all camera angles and Peter Jackson Hobbiton tricks.He kept the news brief – a little too brief for Sam Wallace, who came sprinting across the studio to the weather green screen. “Wellington… hey you’re not too bad,” Sam charmed, managing to catch his breath and say just enough words to sound like a thing.

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With the sparkle of a bindi, the Crows counted in the start of their live, timeless pre-8am rock show with ‘A Long December’. It was quite possibly the loudest thing I’ve been exposed to between the hours of 6 and 9am. Sam Wallace clapped enthusiastically and said “YES”, while Rawdon bounded over after the song to throw to the ads. After discovering that the song came out in 1996, Rawdon seemed shaken. “Where did those 20 years go…” he asked solemnly, straight down the camera, “for all of us.”

After the ad break, we got a seven minute long (pared back) version of ‘Palisades Park’. It was missing the trumpet solo, despite Bindi Crow asking Ali Pugh if she could fetch him a trumpet. It really was a free-for-all, crew wise. I looked behind me to see that Sam Wallace was Shazamming his guts out, despite the song title being on screen. My heart was sufficiently warmed through, despite the polar blast.

For their final number (the famed ‘Earthquake Rider’ I heard about in the hallway earlier), the Breakfast gang sat at the desk, transfixed. Especially Sam Wallace, who was deep in revelry:

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As the song drew to a close, Ali and Rawdon scuttled over to throw to the ads and, just like that, it was all over. From a rocking concert featuring ties over t-shirts, bindis on brows and crow-camera tensions – Breakfast slammed straight into Iron Awareness Week.

I have got to say, I think my Counting Crows PTSD has subsided after seeing them in the flesh – this memory can stay parked atop that one. Soon the Crows retreated back into the green room – now occupied by Beef enthusiasts and bewildered Good Morning guests peddling crafts – and the weird world of breakfast TV continued spinning, like a freaky forgotten quiche orbiting the guest microwave.

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