It”s rare that an artist can hold an audience”s attention for two hours alone on stage, it”s rarer still that an artist can do so with a show composed totally of obscure tunes some of which he couldn”t even remember.
But Neil Finn is that rare an artist. Best known as co-founder of Crowded House, the New Zealander took advantage of being in Los Angeles as the end of the group”s U.S. tour to stop at Largo for two sold-out nights, Sept. 11-12.
“Our boyfriend is back,” said the club”s proprietor by way of introducing Finn, who”s achieved something of a favorite son status at the 250-seat (or thereabouts) theater for his relatively common stops at the venue.
The affection is clearly returned by Finn, who commented many times on how much he loved the room and its pristine sound. Indeed, there was no hiding place as Finn ran through tunes that spanned his time in Crowded House, Split Enz, as a solo artist and with his brother, Tim, as part of The Finn Brothers. He even trotted out the first song he wrote, at 14, noting, “it was the first time I got stoned and drunk the same night.”
“I”m going to whiz through a lot of songs I never really play,” he told the adoring crowd. At one early point, he played what sounded like the opening chords to Crowded House”s breakthrough U.S. hit, “Don”t Dream It”s Over.” As the audience responded by bursting into applause, he laughed and said, “It”s not what you think. There”s none of those whatsoever tonight.”
He opened with the Finn Bros.” track “Only Talking Sense,” a song that is as good as any to dissect Finn”s tendency toward lyrics that address fears and the inability to confront them, often leaving the protagonist paralyzed and unable to move forward or back. How many other writers pen lines like “Anytime”s” “I could go at any time/There”s nothing safe about this life.”
Finn”s other main construct is his undeniable, lush romanticism. He”s far too talented a songwriter to resort to simplistic “I love yous.” Instead he intimately declares, “I”m the one who reads your mind,” on the wistful “Wherever You Are.”
Often the two themes converge, such as on Split Enz” gorgeous “One Step Ahead”: “If I stop I could lost my head/But I”m ready for romance/Either way I”m confused/I don”t know what I”m supposed to do.” On “Step,” Finn was accompanied by producer/composer and his good friend Jon Brion, who, himself, plays at Largo on Friday nights.
Melodically, Finn is a Beatles disciple, with tunes staying well within pop confines, but rarely succumbing to cliche or laziness.
At 52, Finn is still boyishly handsome and playful, his bangs falling across his forehead as he frequently checked his play list on the floor. At first, it seemed as if he may be consulting lyrics, but it became apparent that was not the case when he endearingly needed the audience”s help a number of times remembering the words to such songs as Split Enz” “Missing Person.”
If Finn seems not to have aged, his warm voice has weathered slightly and he struggled with some notes, but the huskiness suited him well on such tunes as Crowded House”s “Never Be the Same.” A little hoarseness aside, Finn still has a beautiful ability to negotiate challenging intervals on many songs.
For his encore, Finn returned with his computer in hand and his brother, Tim, on Skype from Auckland, NZ. In something that seemed like a modern day “Max Headroom,” he put a mike up to the computer, Tim’s head filling the screen, and the two attempted to navigate through “Weather With You” together (his one concession to playing a hit). It was a somewhat glorious mess made all the sweeter by Finn egging on his young niece and nephew to join in on tambourine and backing vocals.