NOTeil Finn has spent much of his life on stage, but he’s the first to admit that his “rhythm” between songs is a bit rusty. He stops in the middle of an anecdote about spending the previous day cycling around Adelaide, perhaps feeling it’s one dad joke too many – even for the demographic mix of a Crowded House show in 2022.
“It’s a great story, isn’t it, Liam?” he said, looking at his eldest son to his right.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Liam replies funny. “It’s the first night and all.”
It’s been ten years since Finn’s signature band last toured Australia, and almost three years since his last tour of the country as an unexpected new member of Fleetwood Mac. And while there’s been some turnover in the ranks of Crowded House lately, it’s a different kind of rowdy revolving door of Finn’s other band.
This incarnation of the band he founded with bassist Nick Seymour and the late Paul Hester in 1986 might technically be a new lineup, but they’re all familiar faces. Finally hitting the road after reuniting just before the pandemic, Finn and a kilted Seymour are now officially joined by Neil’s sons – Liam on guitar and vocals, and Elroy on drums – while Mitchell Froom, the American producer who cut much of the group’s early and seminal work, sitting back on the keys.
For the two youngest, this group is in their DNA. On the opening track Weather With You, Liam’s indelible Finnish voice sits effortlessly alongside his father’s, singing a harmony created by his uncle Tim during the band’s first period of family crossover in 1991. Pineapple Head in 1993, they play the role of their dad sings lyrics partly inspired by the incoherent ramblings of a feverish young Liam.
Liam and Elroy are no longer kids, but seasoned artists in their own right – and at 38, Liam is now the same age as his father when the band first bid farewell to the world in 1996. Backed by the his brother’s steady beat, he confidently reverently pumps out those instantly recognizable 12-string guitar melodies – and adds his own chaotic bursts.
A few songs of Seymour admit he is “a little bloated”, having contracted Covid around six weeks ago and still feeling it in his lungs. He doesn’t have to worry; it’s a crowded house in every way, and the near-capacity Adelaide Entertainment Center sings with gusto. A smiling Neil basks in the sound of many thousands of people responding to him, and on hits like Fall At Your Feet and Something So Strong, he can’t help but keep the song going, inviting us to sing once the rest of the group is finished. He even incorporates the chorus from his 1980 Split Enz hit I Got You and The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon for good measure.
After such an enthusiastic response to the classics, generous helpings of new material from the band’s recently released seventh album Dreamers Are Waiting inevitably sacrifices some of the energy in the room. While songs like Playing With Fire and the provocative Whatever You Want bring ear-to-ear hooks and a familiar, dreamy quality, they’re unlikely to shake up the tracklist of the upcoming Greatest Hits compilation just yet – but it’s not their fault they haven’t had decades growing on us. For now though, they show us a band with a purpose beyond revisiting past glories.
To make up for the drop in crowdsourced backing vocals, Neil invites opening band members Middle Kids onto the stage for a few songs, telling the audience that this is one of the few places these touring mates are able to hang on to. “We can’t really mix up behind the scenes – all that bubble shit,” Neil says. When Middle Kids songwriter Hannah Joy jokes about the lack of backstage rock ‘n’ roll antics, he thinks they were never particularly “rock ‘n’ roll”. “These days, it’s rolling,” he adds.
This is a band that, after all these years, plays with an unspoken family fluidity and a lot of love. It’s hard to say who enjoys it more, the audience or Neil. For some though, it’s a quasi-religious experience: the man next to me jumps to his feet after each song while sending excited remarks to his two sons, and a woman a few rows down gets caught trying send a scribbled note onto the stage via a paper airplane.
Getting back on stage was a “joyful occasion,” Neil said in a final thank you to the crowd, but it was evident all night. It’s certainly evident on their biggest hit, Don’t Dream It’s Over, where once again the Finns and their bandmates start the song, but the audience helps drive it home. As that big, melancholy chorus hangs in the air, Finn beams to the crowd, “It makes me believe when I hear you sing it.”