As Crowded House treat the Roundhouse to 24 songs over the course of 130 minutes, they look and sound as happy, excited, and energised as the audience. Nils van der Linden reviews the band’s first UK show in over a decade. It’s a triumph.
More than a decade’s passed since I last saw Crowded House live. It was October 2010, according to setlist.fm, in an arena at a Cape Town casino. The band played well, and the songs sounded good. But the most memorable part of the show was the warm, casual vibe they created in a venue with all the charm of an aircraft hangar. US-based drummer Matt Sherrod was running late due to a delayed flight and the rest of the group may have started the show without him. Someone from the audience definitely got up on stage to propose to his girlfriend. And, between songs, core members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour interacted with the crowd like a veteran comedy double act.
A lot’s changed for Crowded House since then. They went on hiatus. Finn released a few solo albums and joined Fleetwood Mac for a bit. They reformed with a new line-up: Sherrod and multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart replaced by Mitchell Froom and Finn’s sons Liam and Elroy. They released a fantastic album, last year’s Dreamers Are Waiting.
And, now back on tour, they’re sounding even better than 12 years ago.
Perhaps that’s down to the new blood. Froom not only produced the band’s first three albums, he played that iconic Hammond B3 solo on Don’t Dream It’s Over. The younger Finns aren’t just solo artists in their own right, they’ve been surrounded by these songs since birth and play them with an eagerness that can only egg on the other musicians.
Or perhaps that’s down to the thrill of playing new material to an audience who’ve never heard it live. Or perhaps the band simply can’t believe they’re playing to people at all; this gig, the group’s first in the UK since 2010, was meant to happen two years ago.
Whatever the reason, as Crowded House treat the Roundhouse to 24 songs over the course of 130 minutes, they look and sound as happy, excited, and energised as the audience. Jubilant set opener It’s Only Natural — with Neil and Liam both on electric guitars, their vocal harmonies sounding like only a father and son can — reveals that this is no tired nostalgia act.
That’s immediately reinforced by a galloping Don’t Stop Now, the only offering from 2007’s Time On Earth, and the first of the new songs, Whatever You Want. Propelled by an impossibly bouncy Seymour bassline, it showcases the glorious Beach Boys-style harmonies of their recent material as well as the first of many unexpectedly visceral guitar solos from a sideways-hopping Neil.
Playing With Fire, another Dreamers Are Waiting standout, is more angular and dynamic than on the album. Show Me The Way, in turn, gets a slower, dreamier, sparser arrangement that highlights the enduring power of the lead singer’s voice. So does Private Universe, the sublime centrepiece of 1993’s Together Alone, which expands like the galaxies projected onto the stage backdrop, beginning quietly with Liam on slide and Elroy on acoustic guitar respectively, before exploding into an almost tribal jam that fades out into ambient synths.
A jagged Locked Out sounds positively raw, but is beautifully tempered by those intertwined harmonising voices. Nails In My Feet, complete with Neil providing a visual representation of the inspiration, is totally refreshed by Liam’s jangly guitar licks before climaxing in a big ol’ rock ‘n roll finale. Even during the encore — when many bands are flagging (or, at best, coasting) — the Finns, Froom, and Seymour inject an adrenaline shot straight into the heart of Distant Sun. But it’s a loud, raucous, grinning rendition of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream that underlines just how reinvigorated Crowded House sound in London in 2022.
Some things haven’t changed since Cape Town in 2010, though. Superficially, there’s the part of the set where, in the Paul Hester tradition, the drummer comes to the front to play the snare drum during jubilant singalong Four Seasons In One Day and freewheeling Sister Madly, complete with ad-libbed venue-specific lyrics (another tradition).
But the most important constant is the warmth the band exude and the atmosphere of total inclusion that creates. (The spell’s only briefly broken when an uncharacteristic audience scuffle is rightly called out from the stage.
The inclusive feeling begins with the lighthearted banter between Neil, Seymour, and the audience, with you-had-to-be-there jokes running through the evening. (Tonight’s niche offerings include writing songs in the taxi on the way to the gig, setlist management, paper folding, and the Gestetner printing machine.)
And it’s consolidated by the band’s biggest songs, all naturally endowed with the most gorgeous melodies, seemingly crafted to elicit spontaneous singalongs and performed in such a way to encourage just that. World Where We Live breaks down to just Neil singing and strumming his acoustic guitar, triggering a call and response with the audience. Similarly, Fall At Your Feet ends in over 3000 voices belting along with the frontman as the rest of the band stand down. Better Be Home Soon is bookended by an unplugged Neil solo section but, even when the other four musicians join in, they’re almost drowned out by the crowd.
Four Seasons In One Day, Weather With You, and especially the perpetually magnificent Don’t Dream It’s Over don’t even bother to create space for audience participation; it’s guaranteed from the opening chords.
“You’re in fine voice tonight,” Neil smiles after a particularly rousing performance. “It warms my heart.”
So buoyed and confident are the band that they make the bold move of ending the first of their four Roundhouse shows with a new song (written in the taxi on the way over, jokes Seymour). A delicate waltz, featuring some rich organ textures from Froom and a tender lead vocal, Some Greater Plan is both a perfect comedown for a celebratory evening and a taster for what’s to come. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 12 years to hear it.
Words by Nils van der Linden. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is www.nilsvanderlinden.com.