By Jeremy Frye
Most Americans, if they are familiar with New Zealand (via Australia) pop group Crowded House’s music at all, know them as a two-hit wonder, thanks to their back-to-back 1987 top ten hits, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and “Something So Strong.” Internationally, however, they are a beloved and respected hit machine, a band whose greatest hits album is five times platinum in the UK, and 13 times platinum in Australia. At the band’s 1996 farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House, roughly 200,000 people showed up to see them.
In early 2007, almost two years after drummer Paul Hester’s tragic death, founding members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, along with Crowded House touring member, Mark Hart, and new drummer Matt Sherrod, reformed the band and took it out on the road. That tour, for their reunion album, Time On Earth, was both triumphant and sad for fans, who were happy to see them again, but so much of Time On Earth was weighed down with the band’s grief over Hester’s death. Those shows had a somber tone, and gone was Hester’s zany, life-of-the-party stage banter. Still, the band was in top form musically, and a lot of the shows’ electricity came from the fans’ enthusiasm for the reunion, and excitement from, in many cases, seeing them live for the first time.
This time out, the band is touring behind their second post-reunion album, Intriguer, and the wave of reunion press isn’t there. The new album, which is still very new, having just been released in June, hasn’t yielded any U.S. radio airplay. As I suspected, turnout wasn’t quite what it was last time. This had its upside, as the humid house of The Tabernacle was comfortably crowded, but not packed. The band’s loyal fanbase were there (I saw two New Zealand flags on display), and those in attendance were enthusiastic, appreciative of the opportunity to see Crowded House live, knowing it could go away just as easily as it got here.
The band walked onstage promptly at 9:00 p.m., opening with “I Feel Possessed,” from 1988’s Temple Of Low Men. It’s evident that they refuse to be an oldies act, as the set featured half of the new album, as well as two from Time On Earth. Those there to hear the older tracks were treated to magnificent versions of the hits named above, and favorites like “Fall at Your Feet,” and “Weather With You.” They honored the fan request of “Not the Girl You Think You Are,” and played an absolutely lovely, piano-heavy version of “Message To My Girl,” a song originally by Neil Finn’s first band, Split Enz. The final song, the gorgeous “Better Be Home Soon,” featured a mysterious woman dancing on stage in a manner completely unbefitting to the song’s darker overtones. Sexy, upbeat, and vaguely hip-hop in style, her dancing made the crowd titter uncomfortably at the incongruous nature what they were seeing. Who was she? They band, who seemed as surprised at her appearance as the audience, never said. Neil Finn, aware of the strangeness of the moment, broke into the chorus of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing,” which put everyone at ease.
It was just another day at the office for Crowded House. The band is so put together and professional, you get the impression that nothing could make that train derail. When “Hester the Jester” was in the band, there was the slightest sense of danger, in that you never knew what he would say or do. These days, there’s very little stage banter, aside from a few words of thanks, and an improvised song about Atlanta from bassist, Nick Seymour. The band did speak of their rebellious decision to break the 11:00 p.m. curfew by extending their set to almost two and a half hours. The show, though long, felt warm, lived-in, and at ease. It was a family affair, featuring guest appearances from Neil Finn’s son, Liam, and wife, Sharon. Neil’s voice is as spectacular as ever, and the harmonies between he and Nick Seymour, were truly beautiful. The band seemed to be having the most fun during the rocker, “Locked Out,” but I think with a band like Crowded House, what you lose in flashy showmanship, you gain in songcraft. The incredible purity of Neil Finn’s voice, and his heartbreaking, emotional songs are unmatched, and it’s a pleasure just to see these tunes performed live. Crowded House remains the go to band for mature pop for grown-ups, a quality increasingly difficult to find in 2010.
1. I Feel Possessed
2. In My Command
3. Saturday Sun
5. Four Seasons In One Day
6. Silent House (with Liam Finn)
7. Fall At Your Feet
8. Distant Sun
9. Either Side Of The World
10. Twice If You’re Lucky
11. Whispers And Moans
12. Private Universe
13. Say That Again (with Liam Finn)
14. Message To My Girl (Split Enz cover)
15. Archer’s Arrows (with Sharon Finn)
16. Isolation (with Sharon Finn)
17. Don’t Dream It’s Over
18. Something So Strong
19. When You Come
20. Locked Out
21. Fingers Of Love
22. Weather With You
23. Not The Girl You Think You Are
24. Better Be Home Soon (with a little bit of “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate)