I’ve seen Neil Finn perform in a few different contexts – in a few different cities too. I’ve seen him heading Crowded House and Split Enz reunions, I’ve caught him a few times with brother Tim, sometimes billed as The Finn Brothers, or Finn, and there’s been a bunch of Neil Finn shows.
You go to a Neil Finn show and you get to see what an extraordinarily good guitar player he is – he’ll hit out Suffer Never or some such. And you’ll be genuinely amazed, even if you’ve followed his career. You’ll hear him rework something like Message To My Girl, a song from so many years ago, recast as simple, tender piano ballad. You’ll wonder all night about whether you might get to hear I Got You – and you will. And it will kill. Every time. You’ll also get to hear Private Universe, potentially. And that’ll transport you, take you away on its journey. You’ll get to hear Sinner, most likely. What a strange and wonderful tune that is.
You might, if you’re lucky, get to hear the likes of Fall At Your Feet, and remind yourself of the exquisite charm of Neil’s writing, where even throwaway pop lyrics can be shaped into something magical due to his deft skill with a melodic line, his way of creating instantly hummable choruses.
There’ll be banter. Funny, sometimes awkward – memorable, often brilliant.
You’ll be watching a guy who has lived a big part of his life on the stage since he was a teenager, someone who has learned so much, including what they no longer teach. And, more importantly, what they never could teach.
And you’ll return home after the show, basking in the glow of all that you just heard, and you’ll realise then, or the next day certainly, that for the chance to hear it all again you would fall at his feet. But also, there’s the realisation that he could do it all over again, never repeat a single song from whatever list gets served up on the night you’re there and it would still be one of the best live shows you might ever get to see. That’s up there with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, Neil Young and one of his obvious heroes, Paul McCartney – there’s just a few that can offer more than one set chock full of hits; actual hits. And the new songs that Neil has churned over the last decade haven’t all been bad. There’s some gold in them new hills too.
Earlier this year – which already seems like years ago – I saw Crowded House. And I’d seen them before of course, and I wasn’t so worried about going again – but was into it for the nostalgia of hanging with friends, and the chance to see a gig again after the 2020 lockdowns. We are all hanging out for that sort of chance again now of course.
But I have seen Neil on stage with Tim in front of thousands and the pair just knocking out solo hits and the songs from their time together in two of our best-known bands. I’ve seen Neil at the piano with strings in a town hall-styled theatre. Just amazing. I’ve seen Neil and Tim together on a small stage with Bic Runga and David Kilgour as their opening acts. And maybe, in some ways that was the greatest.
But then I’d be forgetting about the times I saw him with Crowded House just pumping out hits, or the time I saw him co-leading the charge with a fired-up Split Enz in fine form, in reunion.
And the other times when it was Neil on stage and his songs. Those wonderful songs. Great musicians too. That time he got student bands up on stage to play along. That time he took a teenaged Liam around the world for the first time, as his drummer. Those times he showcased just what a class act he is. It’s easy to say he’s overrated, to hate on Neil, to be baffled – but to watch him live is to see one of the greatest live musical acts you could ever hope to see.
I was just thinking about this – how I’d love to see him do a show again. And (hopefully) soon.