as published on melophobe

Lawrence Arabia, Neil Finn and Nick Seymour of Crowded House

Lawrence Arabia, Neil Finn and Nick Seymour of Crowded House

Crowded House. Seasoned like a fine wine, older and wiser and brimming with genuine warmth and self-effacing humor; they’re one of a small handful of bands that can turn the austere House of Blues into a loving embrace. Despite today’s corporate business of rock shows, it was an evening spent with old friends.

Supporting their new release Intriguer, they brought with them ideal touring companions, fellow New Zealanders Lawrence Arabia, who share their quirky Kiwi charm, insightful songwriting, and a love of the Beatles. As it happens, they’re also “family” – Neil Finn’s son Liam performs on their most recent album, Chant Darling.

Lawrence Arabia

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Even with their brief 30-minute set, Lawrence Arabia won over the crowd with their Beach Boys-inspired 3-part vocal harmonies, breezy and bouncy pop melodies (with a sprightly trumpet here and there), and clever, roguish lyrics (“I’ve smothered the world’s problems in a cloak of illusion, clarity comes from confusion” – I’ve Smoked Too Much | “We’ll go swimming in the ocean, just to hide the fact our hearts are broken” – Bloody Shins). A fun personality to match their music (Bonzo Dog Band is named as an influence), lead singer James Milne a.k.a. Lawrence Arabia (The Brunettes, The Ruby Suns) delighted everyone with his easy banter, discussing his choice of attire for the evening – loose fitting, bright red shorts, with the front rows of the audience peering up at him from five feet below.

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With short time to impress, they kept to their most accessible fare (such as the dangerously catchy “Apple Pie Bed”) but then ended with a taste of their psychedelic forays, “The Crew of the Commodore.” Be on the lookout for Barb, a side project from James Milne and Liam Finn, with an album due out August 10 on YepRoc Records.

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Crowded House

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Crowded House have weathered some storms through the years. There was a 14-year hiatus with Neil Finn releasing solo albums and collaborations with brother Tim. And then the 2005 suicide of drummer and founding member Paul Hester, inspiring them to regroup in 2007 with drummer Matt Sherrod to release Time On Earth. Now in 2010, fans are happy to have them back as they support their new album, Intriguer, which sees them moving into more experimental, psychedelic sounds.

Having survived the passage of time, nothing is too daunting for these guys, not even competing with a Red Sox home game across the street nor being sandwiched in before a dance party. With overflowing warmth and charm (and a devilish twinkle in his eye), Neil thanked everyone for coming out – “They can change the name of the room, but we don’t care. The room and the names, they come and go; you and us, we stay the same.”

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To rapturous applause, they came on to their ‘woodland themed’ lawn-ornament-adorned stage set – geese, bears, a fawn, and various other animals tucked into corners, up on amps, and along the back wall. A touch of whimsy to match their trademark wacky, playful personality that provides a nice counterbalance to their heart tugging and melancholy-yet-hopeful repertoire.

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“I Feel Possessed” inspired immediate audience accompaniment, which continued unabated throughout the evening. Neil, in amazingly fine vocal form, switched between electric and acoustic guitars (and Korg synth), and elegantly accompanied himself on piano. From the rollicking “Something So Strong” to soft acoustic ballads like “Four Seasons In One Day,” and introducing songs from the new album, he was joined by fellow original “Crowdie” Nick Seymour, Matt Sherrod on drums, and Mark Hart, who moved from keyboards to electric and slide guitars and melodica. Neil has described Intriguer as “exotic in parts, traditional in origin,” and this stretching of musical boundaries came through in the form of delicious extended jams between songs. After an emotional and dreamy instrumental segue between “Private Universe” and “Black and White Boy,” he thanks us for choosing music over baseball and then goes off on a nutty monologue, with the suggestion that we should all go over and heckle them, ending with “too many songs to do; can’t f*ck around anymore, sorry.” Classic.

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“Fall At Your Feet” featured a 2-part chorus at Neil’s behest, which sounded beautiful and made excellent use of the cavernous space. Their massive hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” featured an audience ‘call and response’ for the expanded ending, with Neil strumming softly on acoustic guitar. The collection of voices that filled the room continued through the beginning of “Pineapple Head.” The sweetly touching “Lester” (which Neil wrote for his dog) was spontaneously performed on solo acoustic guitar, at an audience member’s request.

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Highlights of their five-song encore were an audience acapella for the first few lines of “Weather With You,” and a goosebump-inducing surprise addition of the Split Enz favorite “Message To My Girl,” with Neil on piano. They ended with an acoustic guitar and communal sing-along of “Better Be Home Soon.” And they better be back soon!

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Setlist: I Feel Possessed, Something So Strong, Saturday Sun, Private Universe, Black And White Boy, Fall At Your Feet, Don’t Stop, Falling Dove, Either Side Of The World, Hole In The River, Don’t Dream It’s Over, Pineapple Head, Twice If You’re Lucky, Heaven That I’m Making, Isolation, Lester, Four Seasons In One Day, In My Command, Distant Sun | (encore) When You Come, Weather With You, Amsterdam, Message To My Girl, Better Be Home Soon

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