1994. The Together Alone tour. The first time TLC and I saw Crowded House. There were a line of strange, ridged constructs along the back of the stage, like monolithic artifacts of a forgotten age. Lit in rippling colours, there were times when they almost seemed to come alive, dancing gently to the music. A Maori choir and drum troupe came on for the title track and rattled Wembley Arena to the foundations. We had been fans before. Now we were hooked.
2005. Neil and Tim as The Finn Brothers at the Royal Albert Hall. Nick Seymour turns up on bass, and for a moment we think there’s a full-on House reunion on the cards. But something’s off. Support act Bic Runga runs off stage in tears after struggling through an emotionally fraught set. At stage centre, a mike stand with a fedora on it. It all becomes clear. Founding member, drummer and class clown Paul Hester (the hat on the stand had been a trademark of his) had taken his own life the previous night. We realise we have, however inadvertently, been invited to a wake. It’s an extraordinary, sorrowful but uplifting show. They start—the rotten bastards start—with Don’t Dream It’s Over. All bets are off from that point. We mourn together.
And on and on. So many shows. Breakups, reformations, solo projects. The sound, the feeling remain. The warmth. The sense of family.
The end of 2019. A world tour is announced. I am poised over the keys of the laptop as the seconds tick down to ticket-release. Tension. Mild panic. Forgetting the Ticketmaster password. Peering anxiously at the spinny wheel as the order is processed and…We’re in. Birmingham Arena. June 2020 can’t come soon enough.
Yes, right, well. About that.
Two and a half years later, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Liam Finn, Mitchell Froom and Elroy Finn stroll on stage, strap on and fire away. A crowded house (come on, you know I had to) at what is now the Utilita Arena goes nuts. Opening salvo: Distant Sun. Well, of course it bloody is. The first line goes ‘Tell me what you think you would change…’
Pretty much everything from March 2020 to here and now, thanks.
From there it’s a spirited, joyous romp through the back catalogue. You know more Crowded House songs than you think. But this is no greatest hits package. There are enough golden nuggets included in the set from the most recent album Dreamers Are Waiting to remind us that this is still a vital, powerful group of musicians with fresh songs to sing, fresh stories to tell.
They look great, by the way. Neil’s in a white suit, hair glinting sliver in the spotlight, up in an Elvis-high quiff. Liam (who treated us to an impromptu solo set, unannounced, slightly annoying as most of us were still in the beer queue) is a spit for Ewen McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi with a soupçon of Marcus Wareing thrown in. Nick, always the fashion plate, rockets around the stage in (there’s no easy way to put this, best to just rip off the bandages) a kilt. Elroy and Mitchell just sit on the back line and get on with the job. Let the rockstars rockstar.
Two hours vanish, a sacrifice to the time gods. There’s a little less between-song banter these days, but otherwise all the elements of a great Crowdie gig are in place. Plenty of singalongs of course, where the band drop out and The Crowd take over. I choke up during Fall At Your Feet. Gods, I’ve missed this. Once the band roll into Better Be Home Soon I feel like I’ve been worked over like a punching bag. It is every bit as emotional as I expected. Catharsis is too weak a word for what I’ve experienced.
Why this band? Why these songs? You may as well ask why these clouds, why this grass? For as long as I can remember, Crowded House and their blend of warm, domestic, gently sensual psychedelia have been a part of our lives. Simple and comforting as a fresh cup of tea or clean set of sheets on the bed. They understand how the small things can inform greater truths. Every gig reminds me how Neil and Nick and whoever else plays with them have an innate ability to take any venue and make it intimate and welcoming. Live music is a communal experience. Neil and crew understood that when they live-streamed a set of musical experiments at home in New Zealand through lockdown which turned into a whole album, worked out with a global audience in tow. Crowded House bring that feeling of togetherness to the forefront and enfold their audiences in a big, fat hug. Lean in. Let it go. It’s ok to cry if you want.
In a strange and frankly still unsettling world, this was the moment we needed, the place to be, the songs to sing. To quote from the song: It’s only natural that I should want to be there with you.
See you on Saturday, housemates.