The Adelaide Festival must have somebody peeking in my record collection and rewarding me by throwing concerts in my honour the last few years. A couple of years ago there was a big free concert in Elder Park with the magnificent 1980’s Creole pop outfit, Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Hardly Bananarama in the popularity department but for a sure fire party starter they were bang on the money booking The Kid. Before that they brought legendary garage rocker Roky Erickson to play an electrifying gig at Barrio, a musical event I would never have dreamed I’d be able to cross off my bucket list. This year after nation wide grumbling that the Crowded House reunion was confined to the steps of the Sydney Opera House, it was exciting to get the news that Neil Finn of seminal bands like Crowded House and Split Enz would perform a free concert on the banks of the Torrens to mark the official opening of this years Adelaide Festival of Arts.
My favourite quote about Neil Finn comes from the legendary former Beatle Paul McCartney. When being presented with an award as the world’s greatest living songwriter Sir Paul replied “I think you mean Neil Finn!”. Praise does not come much higher than that. Neil Finn joined his brother Tim’s band Split Enz when he was just eighteen years old, initially as a rhythm guitar player but the combination of his strong song writing ability and the blend of the Finn brothers harmonies saw him sharing lead vocals and writing many of the bands biggest hits like I Got You, One Step Ahead, History Never Repeats, Message to My Girl and many other songs considered to be pop classics in the truest sense of the term. Their success was worldwide and they became one of the defining bands of the 1980’s.
When the Enz came to an enz Neil formed Crowded House (initially The Mullanes) with Nick Seymour (brother of Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors co-incidentally playing at the Clipsal the night before) and charismatic drummer Paul Hester and continued Finn’s run of classic song writing and performances. If Split Enz was a teenager, Crowded House were a more mature, dare I say, serious and grown up band. Songs like Four Season in One Day, Don’t Dream it’s Over, Better Be Home Soon and Weather With You are all songs that are eternal. Shining beacons of perfection in the art of classic pop music. After four album Crowded House said their goodbyes with a spectacular concert on the steps of the Sydney opera House which remains one of the greatest gigs of all time.
Emotional, funny, moving beautiful, Farewell to The World drew a crowd of over 100,000 people (some estimates were over double that) and was broadcast nationally and eventually released on video, then DVD. After a brief reunion in 2007 for a new album Time on Earth and a world tour, they were gone again. Neil has continued make interesting and exceptional music as a solo artist and with projects like The Pajama Club, the band he formed with his wife of thirty five years Sharon. The twentieth anniversary of the Opera House show turned into four shows and sparked hope of a world tour but, for the moment that wasn’t to be.
So tonight we are to be treated to an artist who is like a one man Kiwi Beatles. He has the pop hooks of McCartney, some of cynicism of Lennon, the hippy virtuosity of Harrison and at times the goofy demeanour of Ringo. After the welcome to country and speeches from the Festival directors and Premier Jay Weatherall, out strides Neil Finn and bloomin’ heck here is Nick Seymour too. Suddenly it’s a Crowded House reunion of sorts. Dan Kelly is on guitar, Finn Scholes on keyboards and trumpet and Neil’s son Elroy on drums. Opening with the Finn Brothers Anything Can Happen, a song he hasn’t played live since 2005, the sound is perfect. The band is magnificent and his voice is in fine form. He introduces Pony Ride, from 2014’s Dizzy Heights as his fathers favourite song.
Three songs in and Finn drops I Got You, one of the greatest pop songs ever written in the history of music. Released in 1979 from the True Colours album, I Got You became a massive worldwide hit and has been covered by everybody from Pearl Jam to Marilyn Manson. It’s appeal was universal and instant and this afternoon, a wave of joy washes over everybody enjoying hearing this form it’s creator. Barely do we have a chance to catch our breath before they start Fall At Her Feet from Woodface, which turns into a lovely sing-a-long. Instinct was released in 1996 and English Trees was from Time on Earth the reunion album in 2007.
Neil is very soon regretting his suggestion that they turn the walkways into a race track for the many kids that are in attendance. “Under sevens over this side, Over sevens over there. There will be a nice prize.” Suddenly the paths are inundated with eager and young competitors. “What have I done?” deadpans Finn. It’s quite a lovely and hysterical point of the show. The Finn Brothers song Won’t Give In is the completely appropriate post race song.
One of the nicest things about his set today is him dusting off songs he hasn’t played in a long time. Human Kindness from his 2002 solo album One All hasn’t been heard in over a decade Anytime from the same album gets an airing a bit more often. Private Universe is another classic and beautiful song which has everybody’s hearts in their mouths as the sun is setting. Message to My Girl is magnificent, with Finns vocals soaring and gliding over the river. Another cut from One All that hasn’t been played in twelve years is Rest of The Day Off is a surprise inclusion. Black & White Boy from 93’s Together Alone Crowded House album leads very nicely into another Split Enz song of legendary proportions, History Never Repeats.
One of the frustrations of this kind of public event is that people get there five hours before the show starts to ‘get a good spot’ and set you a three square kilometres of blankets and eskies to stake there claim to prime positions and often bring chairs, tents and other real estate hogging items. I can deal with all of that, but I can’t deal with those same people wanting to sit down for the whole show and expecting everybody else to do the same. It’s pop music, it’s meant to be enjoyed, danced to, moved to. You are not at Carols by Candlelight. You are not at the fireworks.
You are seeing one of the great pop song smiths of all time, and you have been sitting down for five hours- GET UP AND DANCE! There are some outbreaks of dancing for History thankfully. If there was ever any doubt that we are in the presence of greatness they disappear in a puff of smoke with Don’t Dream It Over. in a time when ultra-conservatism is breeding division, sexism, homophobia, extreme religious views and fear as a weapon the words of this song ring truer than ever.
They come, they come to build a wall between us
We know that they won’t win
Tonight this song is utterly magical.
Pineapple Head from 1993 is fantastic and they finish the main set with a sublime Distant Sun from the same year.
They return (of course) for a three song encore. The boppy Sister Madly and She Will Have Her Way both finally have people moving. They bring things to a spectacular close with the amazing Better Be Home Soon. Before the show started Jay Weatherall had said the concert was a gift to South Australians. It was a hell of gift!
Anything Can Happen
I Got You
Fall At Your Feet
Won’t Give In
Message To My Girl
Rest of the Day Off
Black & White Boy
History Never Repeats
Don’t Dream It’s Over
She Will Have Her Way
Better Be Home Soon
Review and Images by Ian Bell.