Goodbye, hello: Crowded House dream is far from over REUNITED NEW ZEALAND POP BAND TO PERFORM IN OAKLAND, SARATOGA By Shay Quillen Mercury News Article Launched: 08/26/2007 01:44:19 AM PDT
After saying goodbye in front of 100,000 adoring fans in Sydney in 1996, Crowded House returned this April to face a decidedly more skeptical throng at Southern California's Coachella festival.
The famously friendly and tuneful quartet chose to play before the reunion of the radical rock-rap group Rage Against the Machine, rather than share the second stage with the mellow French electronica duo Air.
"Common sense would probably say that was a more logical place to be," lead singer-songwriter Neil Finn says, "but having got the band back together, we thought it would be good to go into the belly of the beast and actually test our mettle."
The re-formed Crowdies were greeted with chants of "Rage! Rage!" and flying water bottles, one of which dislodged Finn's microphone during the band's signature song, "Don't Dream It's Over." But Finn says he was pleased that the band was able to win some grudging respect and says it was prepared for worse.
"If somebody said, `You're going to go before Rage Against the Machine in front of 60,000 people,' being a pop band from New Zealand that hadn't played in 10 years, you'd go, `Well, that would be really interesting,' " Finn says. "And it was."
It promises to be a much warmer vibe when Crowded House performs for its own fans tonight at Oakland's Paramount Theatre and again Wednesday and Thursday at Saratoga's Mountain Winery, its first shows in the Bay Area since a two-night stand at the Warfield in 1994. But it won't be the band that fans knew - drummer Paul Hester won't be there.
Three weeks after those Warfield shows, Hester left the band at mid-tour. Crowded House toured with fill-in drummers for a couple more years, but Finn dissolved the band in 1996, against the wishes of bassist Nick Seymour.
"Obviously, somebody's going to feel like that unless there's a fully mutual agreement, which there wasn't," Finn says. "But Paul had left the band at the time, and I was just finding it a neurotic place to be. So I cleared out of there."
For the next decade, Finn worked as a solo act and as part of a duo with older brother Tim, who played with Neil in Split Enz and, briefly, in Crowded House.
But tragedy brought Seymour and Finn back together in 2005 when Hester - whose mood swings inspired the old Crowded House song "Black and White Boy" - was found hanging from a tree in a Melbourne park.
Finn invited Seymour to join the Finn Brothers on stage the next night to pay tribute to their fallen friend. And when Finn began work last year on a solo record, dedicated to Hester, he asked Seymour to play bass.
Finn, 49, says he never mentioned reviving the Crowded House name to Seymour until the record was nearly done.
"It might have been brewing slightly underneath the surface," he says, "but you don't want to jinx the whole process."
The two brought in Mark Hart, the American multi-instrumentalist who joined the band in 1992, and hired former Beck sideman Matt Sherrod to play drums. The new quartet recorded four more tracks to complete what became the fifth Crowded House album, "Time on Earth."
The new recordings were "characteristically exuberant and outgoing," Finn says. "I think the balance helped to make it sound like a Crowded House record."
But even the most upbeat songs on the CD contain sorrow. The jaunty "She Called Up," for example, turns out to be about Finn getting the news of Hester's death.
"It sounded right," Finn says. "We enjoy contradictions."
Hester's death is felt even on songs that aren't about him. "Silent House," which Finn co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks for their "Taking the Long Way" CD, was inspired by Natalie Maines' grandmother's struggle with Alzheimer's. But it's hard now not to think of Hester when Finn sings: I will try to connect all the pieces you left/ I will carry it on and let you forget/ I'll remember the years when your mind was still clear/ All the laughter and light that filled up this silent house.
Crowded House broke big in America with its self-titled 1986 debut album, which spawned two Top 10 hits, before settling into moderate success. But in England and the Antipodes, subsequent singles such as "Fall at Your Feet" and "Weather With You" made the band members major stars.
Building a buzz
The Crowdies were greeted as national heroes when they returned to headline the Live Earth concert in Sydney, but in America the reaction has been more subdued.
"I think there was a buzz when people found out Crowded House was coming back together," says KFOG Program Director Dave Benson, whose station is playing the single "Don't Stop Now." "It's an adult audience, so it was a muted, mature buzz, but there was definitely interest."
Finn says he plans to record a full CD with the new lineup early next year.
"It'll be a surprise now if it gets really successful" in America, Finn says, "but we know we've got a really solid fan base, and we're building a sense of community amongst that, which I hope is all we're focusing on in a way, because that's the real stuff."
Fans of the band's live show will miss Hester's big personality and wacky sense of humor, but Finn says the band - which currently includes Finn's 23-year-old son, Liam, on backing vocals - hasn't changed its live approach.
"We all had the same manifesto on stage, which was to allow moments to happen unscripted, and that's still our manifesto," he says. "We're not trying to mimic something that we had in the past. It would be a bit bogus if we did. But we certainly are stepping off the program quite a lot, and there's a bit of anarchy in the air."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact Shay Quillen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-2741. Read his columns and his music blog at www.mercurynews.com/shayquillen. RePrintPrint Email Return to Top
Ups and downs for reunited Crowded House BAND TAKES RISKS IN OAKLAND CONCERT By Shay Quillen Mercury News Article Launched: 08/28/2007 01:32:56 AM PDT
When you're around friends, you can take chances, act goofy, show your sensitive side, even screw up a little, and it's OK.
That's what Crowded House did Sunday night at Oakland's Paramount Theatre, at the reunited pop band's first Bay Area appearance in 13 years. At one moment, the band was struggling through several impromptu verses of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," capturing the gentle mood if not the precise lyrics or all the chords. The next, it was leading an exquisite singalong of its own "Fall at Your Feet" that brought goose bumps.
The show had ups and downs, but that's how it's always been for this band, even before drummer Paul Hester's departure and, much later, suicide. Although the group's leader, Neil Finn, is a masterful pop craftsman, on stage the group takes more chances than any jam band, detouring into songs its members don't know, extemporaneously composing disco numbers and interacting fearlessly with the audience.
In other words, each show is its own thing, and you can be certain that if you catch one of the band's shows at Mountain Winery this week, you'll see something unique.
Finn and bassist Nick Seymour are the two surviving members of the trio formed in Melbourne, Australia, more than 20 years ago. American utility man Mark Hart, who joined the band for its fourth album, is back in the fold, along with new drummer Matt Sherrod, formerly with Beck. Finn's oldest son, Liam, was around to strum an acoustic guitar and help with the harmonies, and he also delivered a short, spirited one-man-band opening set. Sherrod was at his best on the rockers, but on the numbers with more open spaces, he sometimes struggled to get in the pocket with Seymour, an uncommonly busy and melodic bassist.
The band performed on a set designed by Seymour, an accomplished artist who has designed all the band's album covers. The stage featured a stylized tree off to one side - perhaps a reference to the departed Hester, who hanged himself from a tree two years ago.
But though the band's comeback album, "Time on Earth," is dedicated to Hester, on this night members of the group shied away from mentioning him until a quick aside on the final number. They also avoided some of the album's most moving material, most notably the powerful "Silent House." The show's low point was a back-to-back "Heaven That I'm Making" and "Transit Lounge" early on. Sherrod and Seymour never got in a groove on the former, and the recurrent sample on the latter just cluttered up the mix.
Besides the six songs from the new album, the rest were old favorites from the first time around. The band started with one of its very first songs, the rarity "Recurring Dream," from the soundtrack of the forgotten '80s film "Tequila Sunrise." Oddly, the group's best-known song, "Don't Dream It's Over," was virtually thrown away in the middle of the set with a low-key arrangement featuring Hart on melodica.
The band hit its stride toward the end of the set though, with an epic "When You Come" followed by "Distant Sun." The encores had the sold-out crowd on its feet for some of the band's most familiar material - "Locked Out," "Something So Strong" and "Weather With You."
Finn and Co. brought the crowd down once more with the new album's "You Are the One to Make Me Cry," then improvised a disco song called "Delicious Depressed" to bring the crowd back up again. The show ended with Finn strumming his acoustic guitar, leading the crowd on the final lines of "Better Be Home Soon," as the rest of the band stood beside him at the front of the stage.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact Shay Quillen at email@example.com or (408) 920-2741. Find all his music coverage at www.mercurynews.com/shayquillen.
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