Neil Finn has spent much of his life onstage, but he’s the first to admit his between-song “patter” is a little rusty. He stops himself in the middle of an anecdote about spending the previous day cycling around Adelaide, perhaps sensing it’s one dad joke too far – even for the demographic mix of a Crowded House show in the year 2022.
“It’s a great story isn’t it, Liam?” he says, looking to his eldest son on his right.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Liam replies drolly. “It’s the first night and all.”
It’s been a decade since Finn’s signature band last toured Australia, and almost three years since his most recent lap of the country as the unexpected new member of Fleetwood Mac. And while there’s been turnover in Crowded House’s ranks of late, it’s of a different sort to the turbulent revolving door of Finn’s other band.
This incarnation of the group 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 kilt-wearing 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 band’s early, seminal work, sits up the back on keys.
For the younger two, this band is in their DNA. On opening song Weather With You, Liam’s indelibly Finn-ish voice effortlessly slots into place alongside his father’s, singing a harmony originated by his uncle Tim during the band’s first family crossover era back in 1991. On 1993’s Pineapple Head, they play along as their dad sings lyrics partly inspired by the incoherent ramblings of a young, feverish Liam.
Liam and Elroy are no longer kids, but seasoned performers in their own right – and at 38, Liam is now the same age his father was when the band first farewelled the world back in 1996. Backed by his brother’s steady rhythm, he confidently, reverently metes out those instantly recognisable 12-string guitar melodies – and adds a few chaotic squalls of his own.
A few songs in Seymour admits he’s a “a bit puffed”, having contracted Covid around six weeks ago and still feeling it in the lungs. He needn’t worry; this is a crowded house in every sense, and the near-capacity Adelaide Entertainment Centre sings along with gusto. A grinning Neil basks in the sound of several thousand people belting his words back at 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 along once the rest of the band have finished. He even splices in the chorus of his 1980 Split Enz hit I Got You and The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon for good measure.
After such a rousing response to the classics, generous helpings of new material from the band’s recently released seventh album Dreamers Are Waiting inevitably sacrifice some of the energy in the room. While songs like Playing With Fire and the defiant Whatever You Want bring some earwormy hooks and a familiar, dreamlike quality, they are unlikely to upset the tracklist of the next Greatest Hits compilation just yet – but it’s hardly their fault they haven’t had decades to grow on us. For now though, they show us a band with purpose beyond revisiting past glories.
To make up for the dip in crowdsourced backing vocals, Neil invites the members of opening band Middle Kids onstage for a few songs, telling the audience it’s one of the few places these tourmates are able to hang. “We can’t really mix backstage – all that bubble shit,” Neil says. When Middle Kids songwriter Hannah Joy makes a joke about a subsequent lack of backstage rock’n’roll antics, he muses that they were never particularly “rock’n’roll”. “These days, just rolls,” he adds.
This is a band that after all these years plays with an unspoken, familial fluency, and a lot of love. It’s hard to tell who appreciates it more, the audience or Neil. For some though, it’s a quasi-religious experience: the man beside me leaps to his feet after every song while texting excited observations to his own two sons, and a woman a few rows over gets busted trying to send a scribbled note on to the stage via paper plane.
Returning to the stage had been a “joyous occasion”, Neil says in a final thank you to the crowd, but that’s been obvious all night. It’s certainly evident during their biggest hit, Don’t Dream It’s Over, where once again the Finns and their comrades start the song, but the audience helps bring it home. As that big, wistful chorus hangs in the air, Finn beams at the crowd: “Makes me believe it when I hear you sing it.”