Neil Finn couldn’t understand why a fan brought him a pair of jeans and a guitar cord. They’re too big, he joked: “I’ve slimmed down!” and then puzzled over the offering several times during the evening. But then, a moment. A moment when he was at the piano, singing the beautiful Split Enz song “Message to My Girl”, and he chuckled and nodded, but kept going. In that moment, it all made sense. The fan brought the items because of this “performance anxiety” video in which he dreams it’s showtime and he’s without his trousers. After the song ends, he applauded the fan’s creativity.
Neil Finn laughed with us a lot. He laughed when song requests came by paper airplane. We laughed when he sat at his piano, asking his band to make “helicopter music” (they looked confused but created a cacophony) while he tore apart scrap paper, folded it, then stood atop his piano to drop a paper whirlygig to the ground.
He laughed when someone inexplicably yelled out “Auckland Grammar School!”, an unusual heckle, he said, particularly because “I didn’t go there.” He laughed when he saw a man in the audience taking his seat while holding three beers. “I hope they’re all for you, mate!”.
He laughed, gently, too, when he found out that a man had JUST asked his fiancée to marry him, right there, in the middle of the crowd. The circle of fans around them pointed out the couple and nodded that it actually happened. “Really?” he asked incredulously, then told a story about how a Danish fan once drunkenly took over the stage and mic to do the same, but that this couple had done it with more class. They requested the Crowded House song “Fingers of Love”, and who was he to deny them? Neil Finn retuned his guitar to make it happen.
But Neil Finn also made us cry. And not just the newly engaged woman, after “Fingers of Love”, either. During CH’s “Private Universe”, three feet away from Finn, I suddenly realized that I have pretty much grown up with this man.
Neil Mullane Finn, OBE.
The first time I saw Crowded House live was so long ago in 1987, and I was a kid. Since then I’ve seen and met (and interviewed) him, with his brother Tim, with Crowded House, standing next to Johnny Marr, and solo, so many times. So then I thought about that time in 2005 when I saw Neil and Tim Finn with Nick Seymour perform at Royal Albert Hall in London, just two days after we all learned that Crowded House drummer Paul Hester had taken his own life. Then a lifetime of so many other Neil Finn-related moments rushed into my head and then – I started tearing up. And it wasn’t just me. When I looked up at the song’s finish, another woman was also wiping her eyes….
…because of history. And tonight, on the first night of the North American tour for new album”Dizzy Heights”, Neil Finn had 37 years of musical history to cycle through, which, you know, he kind of managed expertly.
But only once he totally threw out the setlist. After a cutting through a swath of mellow new tracks like ”Flying in the Face of Love”, “Dizzy Heights”, “Sinner”, “Better than TV” (replete with Game of Thrones jokes) and “Recluse”, and showing off the fine efforts of his band (including his wife Sharon on bass, singer Lisa Tomlinson and young guitar virtuoso Jesse Sheehan), he covered off Finn Brothers’ songs “Only Talking Sense” and “She Will Have Her Way”.
And then it happened. The opening chords of Enz’ “History Never Repeats”, and the crowd surged to the front, incapable of staying, adult-like, in their seats. It. Just. Wasn’t. Possible. To. Stay. Seated. “It seems you want to dance” he nodded afterwards, and segued into “I Got You.” We swooned. CH’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” came later, as quiet piano solo, along with full singalong, “Locked Out” was rollicking, “Fall at Your Feet” and “Weather With You ” were just…important parts of history, repeating.
So he made us laugh, he made us cry and he also challenged us. Because, apparently, we learned after the blue-jean-and-guitar-cord-confusion, if anyone can produce a good picture of Neil Finn actually wearing blue jeans, he’ll pay us $1000. \m/
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