Last Night: Crowded House at the House of Blues

Crowded House, Lawrence Arabia

House of Blues
August 5, 2010

Better than: Seeing Crowded House on an Edgefest bill in 1994 and only getting 45 minutes of greatness... Oh, and um, all my expectations. Because, people, I'm not pretending this is an unbiased work, or, howyousay, an objective review. I bought my tickets the day before they went on sale. Also, I had a cat named Finn. I ain't playin' around here.

Last night, die-hard fans hit up the House of Blues to celebrate Intriguer, the latest album from Crowded House. And, let's be honest, to hear a bunch of songs we've loved since the 1980s and 1990s. 

Unfortunately for psychedelic indie pop outfit Lawrence Arabia (or rather, the guy with the rad voice who was the touring bassist for Okkervil River and goes by Lawrence Arabia), the growing crowd was clearly waiting for the headliner.

I wish I could offer more of a synopsis of the set, but I was too busy at a meet-and-greet, trying to keep my cool shaking hands with the members of Crowded House, who by the way, only get more attractive as they age.

Seriously. It's amazing. But I digress.

Once sent forth from green room to show room, it was impossible to not just sit there and try to take in the set: At the back of the stage, against the curtain, tall wooden panels, each featuring a letter of the band name, stood propped up on metal rods that also held what appeared to be vintage illuminated bears. A wooden carving of a spiral-laden tree wrapped around Mark Hart's keyboard set-up. Illuminated lawn figures--deer, mushrooms, ducks and gnomes--peppered the front of the stage. Based on his active art career, I'd assume that bassist Nick Seymour was the creator of the letters at the very least--especially considering the font mimicked that of the album cover, for which he is solely responsible--and most likely the carving as well.

The band walked on stage to raucous applause and kicked off the night with a surprising choice, "There Goes God." It was a relatively deep cut off of Woodface (the band's third album, which also featured Tim Finn) and showed off the skilled harmonies of multi-instrumentalist Hart. Both of those elements foreshadowed the night pretty well: lots of album cuts and intensely good musicianship. 

The new album got some attention via "Saturday Sun" and "Amsterdam" before Neil Finn and crew returned to Woodface for "Fall at Your Feet" and the first of several crowd sing-along segments.

For a first-time Crowded House (or Neil Finn) audience member, it's a little surprising just how funny Finn is. After reminiscing over a past Dallas show at the Arboretum during which a crew member was married, he joked with Seymour and his being licensed to wed (if I'm not mistaken, and heard the story correctly, he recently officiated drummer Matt Sherrod's Tennessee wedding) and volunteered his services.

At that point, a girl in the audience wanted to go along with it, but said she was Jewish. Finn responded with, "You're Jewish? Well, this is purely civil. And he's circumcised." At which point Seymour confessed that his circumcision was but his first experience with plastic surgery.

At another point, during a tuning, the crowd got a bit vocal and Finn egged them on: "The audience is getting rowdy... There's a scene developing... Whadya gonna do about it?!... Oh, wait, they're from New Zealand. And there's five of them."

CH hit upon 1993's Together Alone, then Woodface, before calling out Finn's wife Sharon to supply vocals for the two songs, "Archer's Arrows" and "Isolation," she also aides on Intriguer

Then the first mind-blow occurred. During "Private Universe," the song progressed into its instrumental segment and all hell broke loose. The sound was full throttle and all three--Hart, Finn and Seymour--had dropped to the floor to twiddle knobs and pound pedals in what became an experimental noise fest... until it subsided and Finn began interjecting the words to "Black and White Boy." 

It was an interesting progression then, when Finn introduced the next family member that would join the band and Liam Finn, the reigning prince of effect pedals and looping multiple instruments, came out and razzed his dad (who was fucking around with beats on his synth) to get over it because he's not 20-years-old anymore. 

The band threw down two songs from Time on Earth with Liam before kicking into a slowed down version of "Hole in the River," a song I never thought I'd hear in person. The tragic tune dances between ballad and rocker and last night was no different--just far more dramatic with a wah pedal here and a intense piano riff there, and my god Sherrod is a good drummer.

Now, again with the unexpected choices. Upon returning for the encore, the CH played "Locked Out"--you know, that song that's barely featured in Reality Bites? But then Liam returned and the band rocked faces clean off with safely the strongest, most exhilarating version of "When You Come" I've ever heard.

Maybe it was because it was the last night of the tour leg and they get to go home today. Maybe they just love Dallas. Maybe they just really like the part where everyone sings "With ashes!" But that was the best experience I've had hearing one of my favorite songs played live. Or so I thought.

Finn pulled James Milne out for "Weather With You" and Milne might do Tim Finn's difficult harmony better than Tim Finn could. Outstanding. And then came the kicker: 

Backstage, a friend in our group had mentioned to Finn that "Lester" (an unfinished song about Finn's dog included on Afterglow, a collection of B-sides and rarities) was an especially meaningful song to him and his wife. Finn instructed him to yell it out during the show to remind him and he'd play it. We assumed he'd work it in at the end of a song, but no, Finn grabbed his acoustic and as the rest of the band worked to figure out what he was playing, he sang the entirety of "Lester"... and, yeah, we totally bawled.

Even if you don't have a pet, if you need a good release, the pleading lyric "I will change if Lester lives" will nail you in the crybone. 

Crowded House closed with two expected hits, but I'm not going to complain. "Something So Strong" suffered from radio over-play, but earned every bit of it, and "Better Be Home Soon" is a fine closer for a troupe of incredible musicians who played well over two hours and get to fly home to New Zealand today.

But, I guess "soon" is subjective given the 14-hour flight.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: I was involved in a car accident, circa 2000, wherein my car was totaled and had to be towed away. When the tow truck driver asked me if I needed to get anything out of my car before it was taken, I ran back and got one cassette tape my sister had made for me approximately 12 years prior. It had the first two Crowded House albums on either side. And yes, I still have it.

Random Notes: 1.) Local musician Salim Nourallah was in attendance, as was, apparently, Midlake, though I didn't personally see them. 2.) Bottles of water are five fucking dollars at House of Blues. 3.) Nick Seymour offered that he was almost killed while cycling here in our fair city as a motorist made an unprotected and unexpected u-turn across two lanes of traffic. He skillfully, but barely, dodged out of the way. Share the road, people.

By the Way: In a discussion with the band, we learned that rather than burning shows to disc and selling them as people leave (as they did with the last tour), they have recorded all the shows, but this time plan to remaster them and offer them for purchase on their website at a later date. 

There Goes God
Saturday Sun
Fall at Your Feet
Don't Stop Now
Either Side of the World
Nails In My Feet
Four Seasons In One Day
Archer's Arrows (featuring Sharon Finn)
Isolation (featuring Sharon Finn)
Private Universe
Black and White Boy (partial)
Slient House (featuring Liam Finn)
Heaven That I'm Making (featuring Liam Finn)
Twice If You're Lucky
Hole In the River
Don't Dream It's Over
All I Have to Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers, partial)
Distant Sun

Locked Out
When You Come (featuring Liam Finn)
Weather With You (featuring James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia)
Once In a Lifetime (Talking Heads, partial)
Something So Strong
Better Be Home Soon

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