Neil Finn at the Largo

I have to say that the Largo has become one of my favorite concert venues based only on having seen Neil Finn there twice over the past couple years.

I saw a CD release for 7 Worlds – the Sun Came Out a couple years ago and it was amazing.  Neil Finn, Jon Brion, Lisa Germano, Bic Runga and KT Tunstall played that show.  It was like sitting in a small room listening to a bunch of world class talent relaxing and having fun.  It’s just too small a space to allow ego or pretense, it’s very connected and in your face…in the best way possible.

The Largo has a sort of idiosyncratic style of selling tickets and assigning seats.  You call a voicemail and leave your number and credit card info, then they call you back and confirm you have seats.  When you arrive you are assigned a seat somewhere in the house (oddly, both times I’ve ended up in about the same spot.)  It’s very archaic in this computer age of ticket buying, but in many ways it actually fits in well with the whole vibe of the place.  It’s very laid back, arty and retro.  They make a point of coming out to warn everyone that all electronic devices are strictly prohibited…no texting, no camera phones, no recording.  And they enforce it with flashlights and a measure of shame (and the threat of being removed from the venue.)  Wow, a place that wants you to focus on the performance and not telling everyone you know about it as it happens….see, quite archaic…

So, when I got an e-mail that Neil was coming back to play I quickly phoned for tickets.  I received my confirmation phone call oddly enough while I was at a Scissor Sisters concert in Washington DC (I had a night off from work on a business trip).  I actually had to step outside to figure out who the heck was calling me.

The show was September 11th and Julie and I headed up with what should have been plenty of time….except for LA traffic.  We arrived about a half an hour later than planned and that cut into our time to find dinner prior to the show.  We ended up at the Beverly Mall just down the road having a quick Mongolian BBQ plate.

A quick walk back and we waited in the courtyard of the venue listening to a DJ playing tunes and talking with a few people I knew from the FRENZ board.  A web-based board for fans of Split Enz, Crowded House and the Finn’s other various projects.  Making our way in, we took our 8th row seats in the full venue.  The room is a bit like a tiny old movie theatre, crushed velvet seats and all with a high stage and heavy curtain behind the stage.

After the obligatory electronic  warnings from the owner, Neil Finn came onstage.

His first song was “Only Talking Sense” from the 1995 Finn album done with his brother Tim.  This would prove (for me at least) to be one of the better known songs that he played all night.  I would soon realize that this was a show of rarities and gems done strictly for fans…and it seems for Neil himself who built the show around songs that you’d be very unlikely to hear in any other setting.  But, were songs that spanned his long career and showed his talent for crafting words and melody.

Imagine sitting in a small room listening to Paul McCartney playing things like “C Moon” and “Tug of War” while passing over all the big hits…no “Hey Jude”, “Maybe I’m Amazed”.  Can an artist hold an audience for two hours by playing only the less known tracks from his catalog?

It seems that Neil Finn can…

“Spirit of the Stairs”, “Never be the Same” (one of his two nods to Crowded House the whole evening), “Carried Away”, “Serge” and “Last Day of June” all leading to a brilliant version of “Wherever You Are” then to a version of “Blue Hotel” where he also enlisted the audience to sing harmony….yes, it really was that sort of night….informal, casual and personal.  Like sitting with a friend…just one who happens to be one of the top songwriters of past 30 years.

His time in Split Enz was well covered with six songs including another US semi-hit “One Step Ahead” as one of the encores.  He even asked the crowd for help in recalling the lyrics of another Split Enz song, “Missing Person”…a feat easily handled by a member of the audience at the appropriate moment.

As this was the anniversary of 9-11 and in memory of that event he performed a song he wrote shortly afterwards,

“Love is all that Remains”.

Voices turn on the news
Terrible insight has come
Waking dreams of our destruction
Love Is All That Remains

I saw you run to the gate
We both ran out of time
There is only one destination
Love Is That Remains

Who can tell?
What end will come
Be tender now
With your heart

Is this what we came here to do?
Beautiful life to create
There is only one chance to make it
Love Is All That Remains

And there is a time for you
We won’t be left alone
Beside the river we slept
Oh oh oh

Can’t help thinking of you
Everything is turning to dust
Living proof of our existence
Love Is All That Remains

Two of his final three songs were covers, the first “Fire in your Belly” was written by his son Liam.  Proving that the Finn family has talent that extends beyond Neil and Tim.  I’m sure it must be a proud moment for a father to be able to include a song by his son in his song selections and have it hold up to the high standards that he’s created over the past 35 years.  The last song was a Donovan cover he mentioned playing as a teenager.  “Catch the Wind”.  It’s wistful longing lyrics fitting well with the mood of the evening and sending us into the night with a calming sound rather than with a bang.

It was another very special moment that I’ve been able to have in an amazing year of seeing music.  Similar to seeing Jackson Browne in a small crowd at the acoustic tent at Glastonbury.  (Or, Bruce Springsteen at the Greek for the Segar Sessions for that matter.)  As with Jackson Browne, this was an opportunity to see another of my top ten favorite songwriters up close in an unconventional setting and listen to them with a focus on the words and melody, rather than on the spectacle of a large concert setting.  A big show has it’s merits, but can’t match the connection and closeness you get to experience on a show like this.

9-11-10 Setlist:

Only Talking Sense
Spirit of the Stairs
Never Be the Same
Carried Away
Serge
Last Day of June
Wherever You Are
Blue Hotel
Gentle Hum
Sinner
Anytime
Missing Person
Hello Sandy Allen
Last to Know
Love is All that Remains
Driving Me Mad
Into the Sunset
I Walk Away

Weather With You (w Tim Finn via Skype on his laptop)
Fire in the Belly (Liam Finn Cover)
One Step Ahead
Catch the Wind (Donovan Cover)

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