Neil Finn has always had an ear for a catchy tune, often arranging songs with a tantalising bridge that allows best use of his fine soaring falsetto. It can produce real prickles-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments, and there were plenty of those at the Thebarton on Saturday night, as well as choice passages of agitated guitar.
Finn’s music is familiar to many through a long career encompassing Split Enz, Crowded House, The Mullanes, 7 Worlds Collide and Pajama Club, as well as solo albums and shows. But how does an artist with such a large body of work keep it fresh for audience after audience, let alone mix in new music with the casual air of a friend dropping by to show you a new song? Perhaps it helps to be a nice guy, and very, very talented.
The tempo and personnel varied considerably in this gig. Most of the performance featured Finn on piano or guitar, Lisa Tomlinson on vocals, Jesse Sheehan on guitar, and wife Sharon Finn on bass, plus keyboards and drums – although the stage was sometimes down to Finn with a little vocal backing, or Finn alone. Consequently, there might be a wall of sound one moment and a sparely rendered solo the next.
Kicking off, the soulful new track “Impressions”, from the Dizzy Heights album, gave way to a step back in time with a compulsive “One Step Ahead”. A momentary dissolve into jerky guitar frenetics in the latter neatly demonstrated Finn’s unjustly overlooked rougher side and his mastery of the instrument. It was a style repeated through the night.
Against a backdrop designed by Noel Crombie and Sally Mill, the oldies continued popping up. “Distant Sun” slid into “Sinner” and a tender “Fall at Your Feet”.
“Recluse” was new, but probably too slow and muted, especially compared with the just-as-recent “White Lies and Alibis” and its dark energy. It preceded a sublime version of “Message to My Girl”, with Finn at the piano and just Tomlinson and Sheehan providing back-up vocals. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” continued the sweet mood.
After almost two hours of playing, the band re-emerged for a lengthy encore that included a pummelling “History Never Repeats” and “I Got You”, and a very McCartney intro to “Dizzy Heights”. Encore number two saw Finn alone on acoustic guitar for a beautiful sing-along “Weather With You” and “Better Be Home Soon”, which was strangely uplifting for a melancholy song.
The new material may not always have matched the strengths of the select older material but this was an immensely satisfying show.
Neil Finn performed at the Thebarton Theatre on Saturday night.
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