Words by: Dennis Cook
Crowded House :: 08.29.07 :: Mountain Winery :: Saratoga, CA
"One more chorus to really fuck with 'The Man'," roared Neil Finn, the gray-at-the-temples leader of the recently rejuvenated Crowded House, feeling his oats after a strict noise curfew in thoroughly gentrified Saratoga caused their P.A. to be cut abruptly during the encore. Not only did Finn get the crowd to help him finish "Four Seasons In One Day" but also kept it going for a few choruses of "Better Be Home Soon." Electricity be damned, for this band and their surprisingly passionate hardcore followers there were songs to be sung.
| Neil Finn - Crowded House|
Out touring hard behind their first new studio album since 1993, Time On Earth - a sublime bit of pop 'ooh-aah' performed with the relaxed confidence of utter professionals – Crowded House sound very little like what's allowed on the airwaves today. That should come as no surprise given how out of step they were when they first arrived in 1986. A handful of fluke radio hits from the first two albums almost convinced one they were mainstream but the near disregard of the establishment to albums three and four (1991's Woodface and 1993's Alone Together) had nothing to do with the quality of those records, quite the opposite really. Both reflected a growing sophistication and spacious elegance that didn't jive with radio's shock and awe temperament. Time On Earth offers a band confident in their aims and ability to pull them off – something astoundingly obvious at the Mountain Winery.
Completely unfamiliar with the new material prior to the show, I was still knocked out by every first listen. Finn, the architect of Crowded House's sound, is such an endlessly skilled songwriter that it's a safe bet that whatever he comes up with will, at the very least, be good, listenable stuff, and there's a solid chance he'll hit brilliance more often than not. New tracks "People Are Like Suns" and "Silent House" had the headroom of Radiohead in spots but come from such a deeply personal place that the intimacy is unmistakably Finn – a composer who writes what sounds like autobiography but is really giving voice to universal truths. The level of connection with this audience was off the charts remarkable, many people silently mouthing the words to every selection, even the newest ones.
The current lineup features – Finn (lead vocals, guitar, keys) and fellow original House man Nick Seymour (bass, vocals), relative newcomer Mark Hart (keys, guitar, vocals) and latest addition Matt Sherrod (drums), who replaces original drummer Paul Hester who committed suicide in 2005. The pall of Hester's death lingers over the new material but also dovetails with older funereal musings like "She Goes On," which they played to stirring effect on this almost too bucolic night in the Santa Clara hills "underneath the heavens with the stars burning and exploding" (to borrow a line from the equally well played "When You Come").
| Finn & Seymour - Crowded House|
Today's Crowded House is a touch slinkier, more inclined to find a groove and mine it with visible pleasure. Much of the credit for this funkier bent goes to Sherrod, who swings in a way the late Hester never did. That's no knock on Hester but in purely musical terms Sherrod's stick work is precisely what this band needed to complete their transformation from affable pop unit to a fully switched-on rock band. His drumming is so integrated into every aspect you don't always notice what he's doing but when you do he's right on the money. With Sherrod at his back and Hart poking him in the musical ass, Finn let loose some incendiary guitar work that really enlivened older chestnuts like opener "There Goes God," a splash of heat on saucy verses like:
Hey don't look now
But there goes God
In his sexy pants
And his sausage dog
And he can't stand Beelzebub
'cos he looks so good in black, in black
Lasting only about 90 minutes, it was such a sweet evening from start to finish, dotted with the kind of small moments that make one love live shows – the spontaneous sing-along that caught the band off guard during "World Where You Live;" watching my neighbors sigh during "Fall At Your Feet" as every trace of wistfulness from past loves came to the surface; the impromptu cover of "Moondance" where they got through the first chorus before losing the script and laughing; Nick Seymour's philosophizing about the moon in the Northern hemisphere looking sadder than in the Southern; odd album tracks like "Pineapple Head" blossoming into true showstoppers; and the whole playing out against an ivy covered stone edifice, warm lights playing across it, giving moments a church-like vibe.
If The Beatles had truly won the war with popular music then the Top 40 would sound like Crowded House. As it is they're back making music out of step with corporate sensibilities but right in line with real folks on the ground. After the display at the Mountain Winery – and subsequent spins of Time On Earth - it's to be hoped they continue for many years to come, offering shorthand for life's lessons that one can hum.
JamBase | California
Go See Live Music!