Review by Simon Mercep; photos by Steve McCabe
Neil Finn skipped out on stage, a grey mop of hair on top and a broad smile underneath, called out “Kia Ora”, and proceeded to take a full house at Spark Arena through the song sheet of one of this country’s greatest bands. Finn looked fit and well, and happy to be on stage with his two sons and new Crowded House band members Liam and Elroy. And his voice was as good as you’d remember. Maybe better. So when the concert started with the familiar guitar line of Weather With You, whisking us back to 1991, those hoping for a night of nostalgia must have been heartened.
But this was no simple waltz down memory lane. Crowded House has a new album out in a matter of weeks. It’s called Dreamers Are Waiting, and as any self respecting songwriter would want to do, Neil Finn gave several new tunes an outing. They were as well crafted as you’d expect, especially a love song to Aotearoa called To The Island (the title of this tour) and the punchy rocker Whatever You Want.
Inevitably the unfamiliarity of these songs took a little energy out of the audience in the middle stages of the concert, but Crowded House sprinkled hits throughout to keep pulling the crowd back in. This was, after all, among the first proper concerts at a proper arena for a long time. It was a night to be celebrated, just for the fact of being there.
The band did a nice job choosing how much to talk about Covid and its lockdowns. A joke about bass player and founding member Nick Seymour’s two weeks in quarantine, an explanation of much of the new album was worked out over zoom, and then an excellent cover of Bowie’s Heroes, dedicated to frontline health workers, seemed a well judged acknowledgement. This was a night for music rather than speeches.
We did get some nice little moments of banter. How often do you hear one band member refer to another as “Dad”? The mystery man on percussion was revealed to be Paul from Great Barrier Island, who was told to be on his best behaviour because his parents were in the audience. And we were treated -if treated is the word – to the sight of Nick Seymour playing in a kilt, and displaying his calf muscles with some pride.
But the crowd were there for the songs, and for the choruses they knew and wanted to sing along with. Neil Finn gave ample opportunities for the audience to join in, not that he could have stopped them. We also saw how good a band Crowded House still is. Liam Finn took most of the lead guitar breaks and showed himself to be another good showman in the Finn tradition. Brother Elroy was a commanding drummer, and together with veteran musos Seymour and Mitchell Froom on keyboards, they were a tight unit. Finn the elder went out of his way to give Froom a special mention for his keyboard work on Don’t Dream It’s Over. And as for Neil, apart from that voice he reminded us of his skills on acoustic and electric guitar, and keyboards on Heroes.
And after two hours of songs, we were treated to another of this country’s most well loved pop hits. It was not from Crowded House, but rather, as Neil Finn told us, from another band he was “well proud of”. It was I Got You. It was a nice night to be a Kiwi.
And a mention for opening act Reb Fountain and her band. The singer songwriter and her band twice joined Crowded House as backing vocalists.