Liam Finn Hits a Homer With Sophomore Effort

Liam Finn & Eliza-Jane Barnes, Champagne In Seashells
(Yep Roc Records)

On the new EP Champagne In Seashells, New Zealander Liam Finn has again created a fresh and cutting-edge collection of songs. For the follow-up to his 2008 debut, the critically acclaimed I’ll Be Lightning, Finn shares billing with his singing partner Eliza-Jane Barnes. For those familiar with Lightning, Finn has most assuredly evolved into a more mature and deliberate songwriter.

On the opening track, “Plane Crash,” Finn sings throughout an ominous build-up to the “Plane crash!” crescendo. In an instant, the somber, eerie tune becomes a hurricane of rock music, featuring Finn’s dynamic guitar and ferocious drumming.

On “Long Way To Go,” Finn has created a brilliant pop piece, supported with catchy lyrics, crazy guitar sounds, and smooth organ interludes. This one recalls dad Neil Finn’s work with Crowded House. Filled with hooks galore, Finn still manages to build rich and complex melodies.

Track three finds the music mellowing, but not boring. “Won’t Change My Mind” is a beautiful tune that’s has a second half which takes off in an entirely different direction.

“Honest Face” is quite possibly one of Liam Finn’s finest creations. This song contains all the requisites for a great tune. Excellent harmonizing by Eliza-Jane, a quirky tune that will grow on you like kudzu, top-notch musicianship, and a glimmer of his – as well as his father’s – apparent influence, the Beatles. Actually, the Fab Four’s inspiration can be heard on all things Finn: Split Enz, Crowded House, Neil Finn, Tim Finn, The Finn Brothers, and now Liam. Granted, he grew up surrounded by fine pop music and fine pop musicians, but at this stage in his life has earned his keep as one of music’s finest singer/songwriters.

To wrap up this fine EP, Eliza-Jane takes the lead with “On Your Side.” While Finn possesses pop/folk vocals, Eliza-Jane brings to the table a striking voice that perfectly complements that of her partner’s.

With a total running time of just 20 minutes, the listener is left wanting more of Champagne In Seashells. Hopefully, Finn will treat us with a full-length release in the very near future. After opening several shows on Eddie Vedder’s solo tour earlier this year, Liam and Eliza-Jane will soon be on the road opening for Pearl Jam, then it’s Wilco in the spring. With this prominent exposure, music lovers will soon be saying, “Liam, where have you been all my life?”

INTERVIEW: 5 Minutes With Liam Finn

I had the opportunity to speak with Liam Finn after the May 18 show at The Earl in Atlanta. Here’s what he had to say…

Me: During your first two trips to Atlanta as a solo artist, you had a complete drum kit. Tonight, it’s only two drums. Why?

LF: It won’t fit in the car!

Me: How did you like touring with Eddie Vedder on the west coast last month?

LF: It was great.

Me: Did you meet him when your band (Betchadupa) played with him on your dad’s (Neil Finn) “7 Worlds Collide” shows? (A DVD was culled from five shows at the St. James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand in April 2001.)

LF: No, I’ve known him since I was a kid.

Me: I saw your dad’s solo show here in Atlanta in 1998 and you were with him on guitar…how old were you then?

LF: Fourteen.

Me: Any plans for a new album? EJ told me earlier that it was an “interesting experiment.” Is it interesting because you’ll be collaborating with her, or does that describe how you’re recording it?

LF: That describes how we’re recording it.

Me: I’ll just leave it at that. Any plans to return to Atlanta?

LF: We’ll be back in September.

Me: Where do you want to be in five years?

LF: Hopefully alive!

91. LAURA VEIRS, 5/18/08

Location: The Earl, Atlanta, GA
Supporting Act(s): Liam Finn
In the Company of: Thomas S.

For the passerby, Seattle’s Laura Veirs may have sounded like an old Suzanne Vega cd spinning inside The Earl…or maybe one of a number of 80s female singer/songwriters accompanied only by a guitar. But this is 2008, and Laura Veirs is here and now. Her sound is fresh and original, and her guitar playing is marvelous. She does have a band – the Saltbreakers – which is also the name of her latest release (Nonesuch). For this stripped-down tour, though, she’s going solo. And it fits her music. It’s simple and melodic with discerning lyrics. Producer Tucker Martine (Decemberists, Bill Frisell) has worked with Veirs on all five of her studio albums. Veirs also collaborated with the Decemberists on their 2006 release “The Crane Wife.”

Like opening act Liam Finn, Veirs used a looping effects pedal quite frequently. She looped guitar tracks as well as vocals. It resonated from the speakers with a full, rich sound. What a great invention, the looping machine. About halfway through her set, Veirs informed us that she was going to attempt a subliminal message and hopefully we could figure it out. She then began chanting, “O-BA-MA…O-BA-MA…” The crowd seemed indifferent (except for a few saying, “HIL-LA-RY…HIL-LA-RY…” under their breath). If there were any McCain supporters, they failed to make themselves known. Ah, election years.

During another break in the music, Veirs held up a computer printout of someone’s photograph and said, “I’m supposed to give a shout-out to Todd from Chicago.” In the back of the room, a voice – I assume Todd’s – shouted out, “Yeah, thanks!” Apparently, one of Todd’s friends from Chicago sent the message with Veirs when she played Chicago three nights earlier.

When “Saltbreakers” was released, Veirs put out a request on her website for independent videographers and filmmakers to create their own videos of her songs. The top four have made it to her site. The second place winner was for the video of “Wrecking” and was won by Derek Searce, from Mableton, Georgia. Much of it was filmed in the Mableton Kroger, where I frequently use my Kroger Card. Searce was at the show and Veirs introduced him to everyone. She then treated us to a beautiful version of “Wrecking.”

For her final song, Veirs invited Liam Finn and EJ Barnes back onto the stage to perform “Galaxies.” It was the sole rocker of her set and was a rousing finale.

Finn himself put on a fiery show, playing seven selections from his excellent debut, “I’ll Be Lightning,” and one extra, which I’ll call “The Atlanta Cookie Song.” Finn is known to spontaneously blast into a jam, coming up with an original song that, more than likely, will never be heard again.

The show began with “Better To Be,” which showcases Finn’s knack to create perfect pop hooks, while still maintaining a folk music disposition. His songs are full of great hooks and soaring harmonies provided by Barnes. Finn is also a master with the looping effects pedal, generating as many as three guitars and a couple of vocals in one song, before savagely attacking the drums. Instead of his usual full drum kit, Finn remained standing, using only two drums. This afforded him the ease of going from the looped tracks to frenzied jumping, singing, and beating of the drums. From the sidewalk, one could hear the equivalent of a high-powered, full-tilt, five-piece rock band.

Finn went on to perform “Fire In Your Belly,” the excellent “Wise Man,” the album’s first single, “Second Chance” (“You stand around your haunted home / Those demons won’t leave you alone / Don’t forget me when you grow old…”),” “Energy Spent,” “Gather To The Chapel,” “I’ll Be Lightning,” and the infectiously rocking “Lead Balloon.”

By contrast, Finn’s intense, rocking set monopolized most of the energy for the evening. But the musical solar systems of Veirs and Finn are vastly different. The only logical connection as to why these two are touring together is that crazy looping effect pedal. Great minds do think alike.

85. LIAM FINN, 3/17/08

Location: The Five Spot, Atlanta, GA
Supporting: The Most Serene Republic and Miracle Fortress
In The Company of: myself

A Spirited Set

The cozy Five Spot in Atlanta’s Little Five Points was host to the Next Big Thing: Mr. Liam Finn. You may recognize the name because he is the firstborn of Neil Finn (Crowded House, Split Enz). Liam possesses the same excellent knack for songwriting and performing as his father, yet has mastered it at 24 years of age. He is also quite a frenetic performer on stage, a trait obviously passed down from uncle Tim Finn. Rolling Stone Magazine called him one of the ten new artists to watch in 2008. The Finn Dynasty seems to be alive and well.

Finn is on tour supporting his first solo release, “I’ll Be Lightning,” after splitting with his rock band Betchadupa. He played a six-song set at the Five Spot as the opener for The Most Serene Republic and Miracle Fortress. But tonight, it’s all about Liam.

Roughly 100 tickets were sold in advance, and several more fans arrived at show time. Finn began his 35-minute set with “Better To Be,” a bouncy track that seemed to awaken the crowd. He is as accomplished on the drums as he is on the guitar. And a fierce and exact player he is on both. Accompanied by the golden-voiced E-J Barnes (daughter of Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes), Finn would play several chords of a song, record it to loop, then record a second and sometimes third loop. As these guitar solos were meshed together, he jumped on the drum kit and tore it up. Drumming at the speed of light – and sounding good – is a rare thing. He did the work of three or four musicians and had the sweat to prove it.

Next up was “Energy Spent,” which begins with a lovely acoustic guitar and jumpy drums. Then, after Finn and Barnes downed whiskey shots, he broke in to the “Jameson Jam.” This was apparently an ode to the just-swallowed shot. Finn is adept at this type of spontaneity and it occurred throughout his performance creating quite an excellent mood in the room.

Finn’s musical influences range from the Beatles to Elliott Smith. On the title track to “I’ll Be Lightning,” the case is made for the Beatles influence, with a combination of layered harmonies and building tempos strangely reminiscent of “A Day In The Life.”

Before the next song, a fan yelled out “Wise Man!” And Finn instantly began playing that very song…possibly the finest song on the album (“He’s a coloring book that’s been all colored in / what once was fun will later on be boring…”). Next up was the first single from “I’ll Be Lightning” which Finn also performed on Late Night with David Letterman last month, “Second Chance.” This is another selection that uses the guitar loops to set up a very rocking song once Finn jumps on the drums. Many in the crowd knew this song and were singing along.

After thanking Atlanta and more pleas for a whiskey, Finn ended the show with “Lead Balloon,” an all-out jam that was played full-tilt. The crowd got a taste of a creative songsmith who can play from the hip and do it extremely well. Finn must be somewhat familiar with the Little Five Points area. He played drums and guitar while on his father’s solo tour just down the street at the Variety Playhouse back in 1998 when he was only 14. He has definitely become his own person and quite an outstanding musician in his own right.

MUSIC REVIEW: Liam Finn, "I’ll Be Lightning"

2008, Roundhead Music

Some things are just meant to be. For example, Liam Finn was meant to create a musical career for himself. Forget about his place in the Finn Dynasty. He can confidently stand on his own merits and talents. This is an extraordinary debut release and Finn has been called one of ten new artists to watch in 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine. And from the hundreds of new artists this year, that’s a high honor.

Now for a bit of background for the uninformed: Liam’s dad, Neil Finn, is considered one of his generation’s most talented singer/songwriters, creating music reminiscent of the Lennon/McCartney era. And the Beatles influence has always been prominent in the elder Finn’s music, focusing on exquisite, harmonizing vocals, witty and intelligent songwriting, and a wicked guitar sense, which is often overlooked and overshadowed by the music as a whole in his songs. Neil joined his big brother Tim Finn as singer with the Split Enz in the late seventies and brought a pop sensibility to the group, bringing them a broader audience with such songs as “One Step Ahead” and “I Got You.” After the Enz disbanded in the early eighties, Neil got together with late drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour to form Crowded House. They went on to great success, releasing four gems throughout the eighties and early nineties.

Enough about the old man. The stage is now set for the next generation… Liam Finn’s I’ll Be Lightning is a folksy, melodic prize for listeners who demand top-notch songwriting, singing, and music. Besides a buddy from former group Betchadupa playing drums on a handful of songs and Dad playing bass on one, Liam plays every instrument. Maybe not such an amazing accomplishment since this son has been surrounded by great music his entire life. In concert, Liam is a one-man show, using a looping recorder to lay down guitar tracks, then frantically jumping on the drums. If you didn’t see it with your own two eyes, you would think it was a three- or four-piece rock band, sounding quite awesome. Liam opened for the reunited Crowded House world tour in 2007. After his amazing – but painfully short – opening set, he showed up for most of the CH show, playing guitar and singing back-up vocals. He was a perfect fit.

After an impressive opening song in “Better To Be,” Lightning’s first single, “Second Chance” is a softly building pop masterpiece (“Remember me…honestly I don’t remember who you are”). At about 1:45 into the song, the drums kick in high gear and the song begins to rock. Just the right touch of harmonies and hooks make this a keeper.

“Gather To The Chapel” takes you to that special place. It’s comfort food for the ears with heaping helpings of superbly crafted harmonies (all voices belonging to Liam). “Lead Balloon” hits the ground running with a great backbeat and guitars not shy on the distortion and feedback. Again, Liam pours on the vocal harmonies making this another rich selection (“It’s a sad day when it comes to this, but a free man is a happy man/Walk home and reminisce, you were the highlight of the party…”). He proves he’s got the mettle to seamlessly go from soft, beautiful melodies to downright rock and roll. On “Lullaby,” Liam sings, “try to slow your heart, try to clear your head, night is just the day giving in.” Lucky listeners can enjoy music that is on par with the intelligent lyrics. On some songs, that Beatles influence is heard again. I’ll Be Lightning is a sincere, sometimes folksy album possessing great beauty.

Track for track, this record never fails to satisfy and is an incredible debut. With a slot on Letterman and quickly gaining worldwide exposure, the new Mr. Finn is likely to grace our presence for many years to come. One can only hope.

79. CROWDED HOUSE, 9/12/07

Location: The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
Support act(s): Pete Yorn, Liam Finn
In the company of: Chris

The first time I saw Crowded House live was in Kansas City 20 years ago. They were touring supporting their first album after the break-up of Split Enz. I won tickets to a Bruce Hornsby and the Range show through a local radio station. Crowded House was the opening act, and I became a fan for life that night.

This just so happened to be the same year I would meet my future bride, who later became a fan as well. I’ve heard it said that music is the soundtrack of our lives. Crowded House songs fill my soundtrack.

So, this concert was special. It took place at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. Opening the show was the son of CH frontman Neil Finn, Liam. He is in the process of releasing his first solo record and treated the sold out crowd to five or six songs. This 23 year-old was amazing. Out there all alone, he was very impressive. Look for his record in January called I’ll Be Lightning.

Next up was Pete Yorn. Now, if you’re not familiar with his music, I suggest you get familiar. He rocked. I mean, four guitars…need I say more? A few memorable tunes were “Life on a Chain,” “Black,” and “For Nancy.” Check him out.

Crowded House walked onstage with their new drummer who replaces Paul Hester after he took his own life in 2005. The last time we saw them was during their final tour in 1994. That night in Atlanta was Paul Hester’s very last night as a member of the band (one of the best concerts ever). He was leaving the band for unspecified personal reasons.

Back to present day. They opened with “There Goes God” and continued playing a total of 2 1/2 hours, including two encores. The grand finale was “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which seemed to never end, due to much audience participation. In between the opening and closing songs, the band created terrific music, clearly showcasing Neil’s penchant for Beatle-esque sounds. He even jumped into Cat Stevens’ Wild World and the band joined in. One of many special moments.

Another moment was just after Neil said, “I’m feeling a strong presence in this room tonight,” and then played “Italian Plastic,” a song written by Hester.

The band played five songs from their new release Time On Earth, including “Silent House” (which Neil co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks, who also recorded it). The older tune “Better Be Home Soon” was an extended version with much audience sing-alongs and help from Pete Yorn and Co. Son Liam was onstage with dad for much of the show, as well.

Basically, every song was a highlight for me. Definite standouts, though, were “In My Command,” “Whispers and Moans,” and “Hole in the River.” For me, Crowded House was/is a most painfully underrated band. They possess what I refer to as the trifecta: top-notch lyrics/vocals/musicianship. Not many bands go three for three. It still amazes me when I run into those who say, “Who’s Crowded House?”

Rumor has it they’re heading back into the studio the first of the year. Let the soundtrack continue.