Crowded House – Heineken Music Hall – 20.06.2010

It’s on nights like this that I miss going to gigs in Ireland. The Dutch are a friendly, fun-loving nation, but sometimes they seem a bit dry when it comes to live music. It’s fair to say that neither the venue itself nor the fact that it was a seated gig helped matters, but the rippling applause after songs and the subsequent polite silence wasn’t really what I’d associate with a Crowded House gig. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair about my hosts, although I’ve spoken with people that have lived here for much longer than myself and share the same opinion. (I’ve written elsewhere about the disrespect shown to support acts at smaller venues and a guy who did sound at a Bon Jovi gig recently said he couldn’t believe how placid the crowd were.) In any case, I would have loved to see last night’s gig with an audience that really wanted to sing along to all the old hits.

Crowded House deservedly have a great reputation for their live performances. I had the feeling that they weren’t entirely up for the gig last night, but they still put in a really good performance, with things picking up particularly when Chocolate Cake got the crowd to their feet for the second half of the gig. There was plenty of between song banter, albeit some of it a bit strained, and I think they even changed the set list to keep the energy levels up once people were up and dancing. But I still got the impression that they “phoned this one in” (to borrow an expression).

I wasn’t hugely impressed with the songs they did off their newest album, The Intriguer. (This is turning into a very negative review. Positivity on the way…) I don’t have the new one yet, but I did like the previous post-reforming album, Time On Earth. What both albums have in common is the presence of at least one song featuring Neil’s wife Sharon on backing vocals. And both of those songs are terrible. Really terrible. The new one last night was the definite low-light of the gig. I like how he’s a family man and involves the rest of the Finns, but I don’t think Sharon is much of a singer (or maybe it’s the songs).

(Incidentally, Neil’s son Elroy played acoustic guitar with the band on a few songs last night too.  The last time I saw him on stage was around 1998 in Dublin on Neil’s solo tour for the Try Whistling This album. That night he was probably about 9 or 10 years old and was just wandering around keeping himself amused!)

There were, I’m pleased to say, lots of highlights as well. I’d never heard Chocolate Cake live before, and Neil’s solo performance of Message to my Girl on the piano was really lovely. Great versions too of I Feel Possessed and Nails in my Feet, and the impromptu jam of She Called Up, from the Time on Earth album, was fun. They got the crowd singing along to Don’t Dream It’s Over and got some nice harmonies going on Fall at your Feet. And they did one of those extended swampy versions of Private Universe with Matt the drummer battering the bejaysus out of his kit.

Neil Finn is one of my musical heroes. I think someone once said something about not having heroes as they only let you down eventually (or was that me?). Well he hasn’t let me down as such, but last night was the fourth time I’ve seen him (Edinburgh with The Finn Brothers and Zurich with Crowded House were the others, in addition to that Dublin gig), and for the first time I found him to be a bit on the cheesy side of the middle of the road at times. Maybe it’s just that Flight of the Conchords has brought a new perspective to Kiwi folk-rock, but during some of banter he sounded uncannily like Murray, the manager from FotC. Still a hero though – and I look forward to seeing him play live on many more occasions. But it definitely won’t be in the Heineken Music Hall (or at least not with seats in place).

Finally, a quick word about the opening act, Connan Mockasin. They’re a (mostly) Kiwi band based in England and they managed to completely bemuse the audience last night with their art-rock noodlings. I thought they were kind of entertaining; clearly good musicians and didn’t seem phased by what must have been an unfamiliar type of venue for them. I imagine it was a bit like seeing Split Enz  in their early years. I’ve no idea whether we’ll hear more from them, but I think I’d like to see them in a more intimate venue if the chance came up.