Genius of Crowded House proven yet again

Live Review: Crowded House at The House of Blues in Chicago, 9/5/10

Neil Finn has been one of the planet’s most talented singer-songwriters since 1980, when he brought his brother Tim’s band, Split Enz, into the mainstream with fine songs such as “I Got You,” and “One Step Ahead.” Once that ran its course, Finn grouped with Nick Seymour and the late Paul Hester forming Crowded House in 1984.

Fast forward 26 years to the House of Blues in Chicago, with Crowded House on tour promoting their sixth studio album Intriguer. Opener “I Feel Possessed” kicked off the festivities at the sold out venue. Like many Finn-penned tunes, this classic begins innocently enough then shifts into a higher gear. But on this night in Chicago, Crowded House shifted nearly every song into hyperspace gear. This was the most rocking show by the band ever witnessed by this reviewer (and he’s seen Finn perform six times). It’s as if they wanted to prove their relevance to an ever-changing musical landscape, staying young all the while.

The second song was “Mean To Me,” from their 1986 debut album. This rocked even harder, with Finn’s voice as perfect – if not better – than it ever was. And he is one of the most underrated and superbly skilled guitar players out there. Of course, his songwriting is the only thing that surpasses his voice and guitar work. He is frequently compared to Lennon and McCartney for a very good reason.

Several songs from Intriguer made the cut including the excellent “Archer’s Arrows” and “Either Side Of The World.” Strangely, the lead-off single from the album, “Saturday Sun,” was left off the set list. Neil was in top form, even bopping up and down on some songs and having a fantastically enjoyable time – as did all bandmates (bassist Nick Seymour, multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart, and drummer Matt Sherrod). Always smiling, joking, and laughing, these guys love playing together and it shows.

At one point, it appeared that Neil had the wrong guitar. To kill some time, Mark Hart sang a soulful and bluesy version of CCR’s “Born On The Bayou” (definitely an ode to that whole House of Blues thing).

Neil is also one of the best at banter and is funny as hell. He had been sporting a not-so-excellent mustache for the past couple months and was clean-shaven on this evening. Between songs, a fan yelled, “Thanks for shaving!” To which Neil replied, “Thanks for shaving? Have you not learned anything from me over the years? The mustache is back on Monday morning!”

It was evident that the packed house was packed with serious CH fans. On most songs, the foursome was accompanied by a roomful of voices, not missing a word. Finn is famous for his call-and-response moments. And he always tells the crowd that they sounded beautiful.

After a rousing and rocking performance, the boys returned for a fantastic encore. On the stage was a rolled up poster. Neil picked it up, read it, then showed it to the fans. It read, “PLEASE PLAY ONE STEP AHEAD.” This was a song from his days with brother Tim Finn’s group Split Enz. He then said, “Let’s put it to a vote…I’ll play the beginning guitar parts from “One Step Ahead” and “I Got You” (another Split Enz tune). He played, the fans voted, and “I Got You” won it. Not before, though, Mark Hart whispered something in Neil’s ear. Neil then announced that it was Rodney’s birthday and Rodney likes that song (Rodney is on the CH crew). The band then ripped through a scorching version of “I Got You.” It was surely the most scorching and excellent version of that song ever played.

As Crowded House passed the two-hour mark and were deep into the encore set, Neil looked to his left and exclaimed, “There he is!” He then asked the audience if they would like to meet his Dad, to which we all responded with cheers and applause. Neil walked over, picked up a laptop, and brought it back to center stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Richard Finn.” And there was his old man, waving at us on that laptop screen, all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Neil was grinning from ear to ear. Mr. Finn then, peering out over the crowd, said “Looks to be 20-30 people there!” Neil simultaneously smiled, blushed, and beamed with pride. As the beginning notes of the final song were played, Neil said, “This one’s for you, Dad.” “Better Be Home Soon” was that song.

For the average fan in attendance, initiation was at hand. For the die-hard fan, this night was glorious and could never be repeated. One can dream, though.

Fellow New Zealanders Lawrence Arabia opened the show and complemented the headliners nicely. What started off like country rock (a tad Wilco-ish) turned poppy, and the quintet really heated the place up. Their single “Apple Pie Bed” fell somewhere between the Crowded House and Squeeze sound and was an audience favorite.

Members of the band, along with Eliza-Jane Barnes (who records and tours with Neil’s son Liam) were also onstage to nail “Weather With You.”

Set List:

I Feel Possessed
Mean To Me
Twice If You’re Lucky
Either Side Of The World
Don’t Stop Now
Fall At Your Feet
It’s Only Natural
Whispers And Moans
Isolation
Archer’s Arrows
Chocolate Cake
Elephants
Born On The Bayou
Nails In My Feet
Hole In The River
Don’t Dream It’s Over
When You Come
In My Command
Encore
Four Seasons In One Day
Locked Out
I Got You
Weather With You
Better Be Home Soon

Atlanta welcomes back Crowded House

Live Show Review: Crowded House at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 8/1/10

Like the Phoenix that rose from the ashes, Crowded House has apparently returned for good. Their 2007 comeback (after a 14-year absence), Time on Earth, proved to be a more mature and deliberate accomplishment than Crowdies had become accustomed to in the eighties and nineties. Now comes the band’s sixth studio album, Intriguer. This album continues on the path of maturity, but reaches back to the early days. Just a bit.

Neil Finn and company are once again on the road supporting a new album. The difference is that this seems to be the happiest time in the band’s life. And Neil brought along his son Liam (himself a successful recording artist) and his wife Sharon, who added beautiful harmonies to both Intriguer and this terrific show at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.

Finn opened the show with “I Feel Possessed,” from 1988’s critically acclaimed Temple of Low Men. This excellent selection was a definite crowd pleaser. After another classic (“In My Command”), the band swung into the new album with the first single, “Saturday Sun.” The song is reminiscent of the best Neil Finn has created.

Finn’s voice was even stronger than during their comeback tour in 2007 at this very venue. And once again joined by his son, Liam, who sang on “Silent House,” and “Say That Again.” A true surprise was Finn’s wife, Sharon showing up. Sharon has harmonized with her husband on several songs and sang with the band on the new “Archer’s Arrows” and “Isolation.” Sharon took the stage just after Finn performed a one-man miracle of “Message To My Girl,” the 1983 Split Enz song he wrote for her (“No more empty self possession / Visions swept under the mat / It’s no New Year’s resolution, it’s more than that”).

A little out-of-the-ordinary moment was when Crowded House performed their first (and arguably best) single, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in the middle of the show, as opposed to the end of the show. This song has been the signature final song at CH live shows for years. Finn has shaken it up after singing that song live for 25 years. Understandable.

Other highlights included “Distant Sun,” “Whispers And Moans,” “Private Universe,” “Something So Strong,” and “Locked Out.” Finn still pulls the fans in to several sing-alongs for each show. And these sing-alongs are incredible. Everyone in the place knew the words and were able to sing them in perfect harmony. It was a joyous noise. Finn and original CH member Nick Seymour (bass) have been together since the demise of Slit Enz and the birth of Crowded House in 1985. Mark Hart (guitar, keyboards, etc.) has been with the band since the 1993 album Together Alone and drummer Matt Sherrod joined the group permanently for Time On Earth. Sherrod takes what the late, great Paul Hester did and adds some UMPH.

As a collective, this foursome works together like a well-oiled machine. Always smiling and often joking, these guys provided much entertainment aside from the excellent music. Finn has a dry and quick sense of humor. He exhibited that sense of humor when a young lady jumped on stage during the final number, “Better Be Home Soon.” After dancing like a cheerleader possessed for a few seconds, the audience (and surely the cheerleader) fully expected for security to yank her off stage. It didn’t happen. Apparently CH didn’t pay for that level of protection. So, she danced and gyrated throughout the entire song. Finn spontaneously broke into Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” And the band followed. So, without letting this moment ruin an otherwise perfect evening, the crowd left the Tabernacle in a great mood.

After years of Lennon/McCartney comparisons, Finn continues to create some of pop/rock’s most listenable and intelligent music. Please Neil, don’t stop now.

Opener Lawrence Arabia, also from New Zealand, warmed up the show nicely with familiar pop hooks and harmonies.

Set List:

I Feel Possessed
In My Command
Saturday Sun
Amsterdam
Four Seasons In One Day
Silent House
Fall At Your Feet
Distant Sun
Either Side Of The World
Twice If You’re Lucky
Whispers And Moans
Private Universe / Black And White Boy
Say That Again
Message To My Girl
Archer’s Arrows
Isolation
Don’t Dream It’s Over
Something So Strong
When You Come

Encore:
Locked Out
Fingers Of Love
Weather With You
Not The Girl You Think You Are
Better Be Home Soon / You Sexy Thing

For the Intriguer review, click HERE.


“Don’t Dream It’s Over” live in Atlanta