Tuesday, October 13
Neil Finn has been one of New Zealand music’s elder statesmen for some time now – it might be a role he’s finally comfortable with. Certainly he’s our high achiever and there’s no denying his abilities, the setlists are goldmines of hits and rarities – all treated as equals too. But it seems to finally make sense to hear Neil Finn serving up these parts of himself, nearly 40 years of incredible songwriting. This was a masterclass.
The first seven songs featured Finn solo, electric or acoustic guitar and – mostly – seated at the piano. A trio of songs, Crowded House’s Fall At Your Feet, The Finn Brothers’ Last Day of June and Split Enz’s Message To My Girl might have been anyone else’s encore, but only if they had been extremely lucky. Here they were songs three, four and five of a
23-song gamut-running showcase; proof, too, that though Neil Finn songs stay written – and hang in our minds – they are flexible, arrangement-wise. He could add or subtract to the original text, the result always stunning.
Fall At Your Feet at the piano, solo, was just one emotional highlight. Later there would be Don’t Dream It’s Over and Private Universe with the string section, later there would be a disguised intro to One Step Ahead, later there would be a good chunk of last year’s Dizzy Heights album, replete with strings, the arranger of those parts, Victoria Kelly, on stage with members of the NZSO, Divebomber felling like a suite from a larger, conceptual work all of its own, two Finn Brothers songs (Edible Flowers, Gentle Hum) felt as gorgeous, glorious and important as anything from the Enz/House cannon; the near folly of Pajama Club (Neil’s collaboration with wife, Sharon) was represented by the song Golden Child. Dressed in these clothes, it was ready for the big show – resplendent.
But it wasn’t just a showcase for the songwriting, although that’s what you walk away mesmerised by, the range, the impact, the flow and feel of so many wonderful songs, it was also a reminder that Finn’s voice is as good as it’s ever been, his playing immaculate and his choice of collaborators wise and tasteful. Here were musicians (such as drummer Chris O’Connor) playing only and ever for the songs. And what a treat it must have been for them all, working with that material. That there’s no one better is undeniable. In a lifetime of watching Neil Finn performances this was my favourite. This was as good as he’s ever been. You get the feeling he might only get better from here too. He’s free now to serve up the parts of his fine catalogue as and when it suits. He’s certainly earned that luxury.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here