There are some artists for which you just always have to make time.
For TLC and I, there can never be an excuse. If Neil Finn's in town, we'll be there.
Whether as part of Crowded House, with his brother Tim or, as on this tour, solo, there's something about a Finn gig. A sense of belonging, of family. Comfort in the simple things. All of which are, of course, primary concerns for mister Finn himself.
Bristol has become as viable a trip to see a gig as London for us these days. 90 minutes up the M4 means that the airy, modern Colston Hall is easily within reach for us. Who needs the Smoke when you can have the sea? After a gentle afternoon with Doco Dom and Lady Dem in their new pied à terre in Fishponds, we drifted to our seats and whooped as the lights went down and a vast coral-cloud spiral lit up behind the band.
Neil has said that he's touring as himself this go-around in order to explore every aspect of his career. The first three songs of the gig made this clear as day, as he bounced from Impressions (off the new album) to History Never Repeats (from the Split Enz days) to the Crowded House classic Distant Sun. Over the next two and a half hours, he explored every inch of his back pages.
It was, as ever, a joyful, emotional ride. I frequently find myself with tears on my cheeks at a Finn gig. The songs are part of my history, and belting them out at the top of my voice will always bring up a wobble or two. His songs, seeking out the surreal and erotic in the mundane and everyday, have a way of slipping under your skin, nestling close without you even realising. They stay put, welcome lodgers in the box room in your head. As the saying goes, you know more Neil Finn songs than you think you do.
On a rainy, dull evening in Bristol, Neil Finn set us aglow. His band, including wife Sharon on Hofner bass (I have an extremely libellous theory as to why she's taken to accompying him on tour–buy me a beer and I'll share it with you) were on the top of their game. He's clearly proud of the young ensemble, shouting them out at the head of the gig. Guitarist Jesse Sheehan and vocalist Lisa Tomlins added a hint of slinky glamour at the front, but they both had musical chops to spare, adding lush harmonies to Neil's husky tones.
The soulful, funkier edge to the new material has, I'll admit, made the new album Dizzy Heights much more of a slow-grower for me than the average dose of Finn (and I still have to skip the painfully earnest Divebomber) but played live the songs have much more of a bounce and bite to them. It's a sign, I think, of a songwriter that's still prepared to take risks, be playful and allow the songs to change up in front of a live audience. That's something he's always done well: turning Don't Dream It's over into a piano-led track, or dragging a guy from the audience up to play a solo during Take A Walk (nice work, Simon).
We rolled out into a rainy evening, and waited for a taxi under the awning of the Bristol Hippodrome while watching the college girls teeter past on un-necessary heels. As ever, Neil Finn had dropped a hazy shade of springtime onto a miserable English evening, and made it shine.
As Neil saw fit to take a walk through the back catalogue, it would be remiss of me not to do the same. Behold: my Spotify playlist of all things Finn.