Crowded House, Fillmore, San Francisco, May 15, 2008
FOUR’S A “CROWD” (CH 2008 left to right, Matt Sherrod, Mark Hart, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour)
Crowded House’s audience can really sing. In tune, on beat and with multi-part harmony. That’s pretty remarkable, think about it. Most rock audiences can hold a lighter up high for their favourite band, but how many can carry a tune? Or clap on beat (as a musician, a pet peeve of mine is when audiences “can’t find the one”)
Maybe it’s the remarkable melodies of Neil Finn, which are so lovely and natural sounding (deceptively so, I might add, more on that later) that they are indelibly stamped upon the brains of their fans (count me among them). And it’s not like Finn’s lyrics are all that straightforward either. Far from it actually. But at the risk of being a sycophant – oh who cares? this is my blog, why pretend to be neutral – the genius of Neil Finn is in the way he takes a simple melody, and lays it over seemingly logical chords which are often musically surprising, and THEN adds lyrics that are nothing close to literal or typical. There’s rarely a cliched phrase among them. To illustrate this, think about one of the band’s signature tunes, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. I’ve been to countless Crowded House shows since 1987 when this song was first on the radio, and every time, the audience belts it out, full soccer crowd style, as though every word were from their national anthem. But who else can get an audience to chirp along to such lines as “Get to know the feeling of liberation and relief” or “My possessions are causing me suspicion, but there’s no proof.”
Sherrod & Finn last year in Los Angeles (lifted photo ©Losanjealous)
So that’s the songwriting part of it. Let’s talk about Crowded House 2008 as a band. Since reforming the outfit in 2007, Crowded House have been on the road for over a year, all around the world, and it shows. Bassist and bonhomie supplier Nick Seymour is back, so is utility man Mark Hart on guitar, keyboards and harmonies and new drummer Matt Sherrod who was invited last year to fill the Italian Plastic shoes of the sadly departed drummer Paul Hester who died by his own hand, tragically, a few years ago. Last year, I caught the new lineup in Oakland, augmented with Neil’s fantastic son Liam Finn (seriously, go to iTunes right now and download Liam’s recent I’ll Be Lightning album). While I was happy to hear them after years away (although I’ve been a vociferously loyal fan of all of Neil’s solo albums and the two he did with brother Tim) and was impressed with the new songs from CH’s 2007 album Time On Earth — they were in the moment and tight enough, but the vibe also seemed just a tad nostalgiac and rear-view mirrorish, like it was just miraculous that they were back to revisit the back catalogue. Nonetheless, I had a great night either way.
THIS YEAR’S CROWDED HOUSE is another thing again. Seasoned as they are after a year out on the boards (and buses), the four-piece has gelled into a lean rocking unit, with plenty of nuance and always those sweet, sweet melodies. And NEW SONGS, there’s a future here! The NEXT album should be even better, with new tempos, polyrythms and neat chords. (On this tour they had opening act, New Zealand legend, Don McGlashan, whom you may know from the Mutton Birds, adding the odd French Horn –or whatever that thing was– and shaker eggs etc).
Hits you’d know: Don’t Dream It’s Over, Weather With You, Something So Strong, Fall at Your Feet, Better Be Home Soon *and the old Hunters & Collectors song they used to always play, by Nick’s brother Mark Seymour, Throw Your Arms Around Me.
Songs you SHOULD know from Time On Earth: She Called Up, Don’t Stop Now, Pour Le Monde
NEW SONGS: I’m eager to hear studio versions of: 789, Turn it Around, Lucky
I came to the Fillmore that night with the basic expectation of another run through of some of the best songs ever written, played by one of my favourite bands of all time. Crowded House 2008 fairly exceeded these humble expectations and rekindled my optimism that, to paraphrase a line from Finn himself, I’ll never see the end of the road they’re travelling on. Don’t dream it’s over, for it appears to be just beginning.
Hey guys, don’t stop now.
San Francisco, May 15