20 September 2014

The chiming of a perfect chord

Neil Finn
Opera House
Wellington
19 September 2014

Last night at the Opera House Neil Finn and his five band-members put on a traditional Mullanean concert outing, bursting with memorable tunes from a career spanning five decades and boasting a generous setlist that saw the performance stretch out until half eleven. I was particularly lucky to be sitting in the front row only a few metres from the stage and right in front of a stack of five Marshall monitors: probably the loudest spot in the venue. Which was a good thing!

It's tricky to assemble a selection of highlights because the standard was so high, showcasing songwriting deployed by one of its finest modern adepts. The material from new album Dizzy Heights was of a high quality and was interspersed through the more well-known material to good effect, particularly the solid In My Blood. But for me, personal highlights included a double burst of Split Enz magic with a fired-up One Step Ahead (which benefited from a raucous but tight guitar solo by Jesse Sheehan) and the chiming, exuberant 1981 pop classic History Never Repeats, which is an object lesson in successful songcrafting. The lead single from the Finn album in 1995, Suffer Never, filled the Opera House with Sharon Finn's enormous reverberating bass sound and was perhaps the loudest moment of the night. And a pair of more introspective numbers from Neil at the piano impressed too. First, the epic gospel-strength chorus of Edible Flowers from the second Finn album, Everyone Is Here in 2004 ('Who owns that space, declare it if you dare tonight / Don't let the moment pass until another day'), and second the charming simplicity and candour of Message To My Girl, which originally appeared on Split Enz's Conflicting Emotions back in 1984.

Photo via Wimseycal
Finn's band provided a pleasing mix of youth and guile, with wife Sharon performing bass duties adeptly as she did on the Pajama Club side-project. Guitarist Sheehan brought impressive proficiency and backing vocals, plus an epic guitar face, although he had to be reigned in on one solo when he didn't drop back in as expected. Local singer Lisa Tomlins, who has performed previously with Finn and Rhombus, fitted in perfectly, and drummer Alistair Deverick (Ruby Suns) and American keyboardist Andrew Everding both provided skilful backing and tight discipline.

The capacity crowd - including ex-Hobbit Billy Boyd, a few rows back from me - witnessed the evidence that Finn is still in his musical prime. The wealth of his songbook means his live performances are a must for any fan of cleverly and beautifully-written pop and rock music.

Finn also has great connections, and before the main event the audience was treated to a support slot from Bic Runga, who hadn't performed in New Zealand since 2011, having become a parent with her partner, Kody Nielson, formerly of the Mint Chicks. Her performance was every bit as talented as the first time I saw her play support, which was at a Dave Dobbyn gig in some rough North Shore tavern in about 1993 when an audience of roistering bogans stood silently and listened to her exquisite, gentle songs. A new album is predicted soon.

See also:
Music: Pajama Club, 4 December 2011
MusicCrowded House, 4 July 2010
Music: Crowded House, 1 July 2007
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