Crowded House at The Ryman--9/11/07-- A Blast From the Past from the Land Down Under
^^^^^ Thanks to Robin Mawdsley for the pictures
Largely unfamiliar with 80s rock phenoms Crowded House, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and check out the next-to-last leg of the band's U.S. Reunion Tour at The Ryman Auditorium. Like other recently reunited groups that will go unmentioned, Crowded House doesn't appear to be bandwagon jumpers intent on mailing in washed out oldies for the sake of large paychecks, a longing for long-lost relevance and chance to recapture notoriety. Instead it is great to see that Neil Finn and company still show an affinity and respect for their devout and international fan base that have stayed with them all these years and thus enabled them to fill up mid-sized theaters throughout the U.S. ten years after the band's breakup.
Light-hearted humor filled the gaps between Crowded House classics as front man Neil Finn referenced several current events such as Britney Spears' disastrous performance at this year's MTV Video Music Awards to the recent General Petraeus Senate hearings. Finn also didn't miss a single chance to take a playful shot at bassist Nick Seymour, jabbing at him for his previous night's performance at a Nashville honkytonk, making jokes about his childhood, and even making Seymour don a pink boa for a number of songs. If the band decides to recede once again into the shadows, at least Neil Finn could explore a career as a comedic folk performer like his fellow countrymen The Flight of the Conchords.
Now as for the music, the nearly two-hour set (which included two lengthy encores) was filled with nearly all Crowded House material both new and old. Right out of the gate the band ripped into a surprisingly heavy and inspired version of "Recurring Dream" (after all these guys are supposed to be old). For an opener, this was certainly one of the highlights of the night for a newbie like me. As they thrust into the lyrically poignant "Private Universe", I was introduced to the bands recurring lyrical themes of seasons, dreams, and nature, each of which are woven into the song. The momentum and energy built by the first two songs was lost as the band followed "Recurring Dream" with a quartet of songs from the new album Time On Earth . With the exception of "English Trees", I found "Say That Again", "Fall at Your Feet" and even the single "Don't Stop Now" to pale in comparison with the rest of the band's catalogue. A couple songs later a new track titled "Heaven That I'm Making" caught my attention and served as a precursor to the anticipated mega-hit "Don't Dream It's Over" that would serve as the night's first of many singalongs. Lights beamed off a pair of pair of lettered semi-spheres thrusting an alphabet soup of senseless letters out into the audience and against the band's literary backdrop. "Pineapple Head", "Silent House", "When You Come", and the upbeat and anthemic ballad "Something So Strong" would close out the set and light a fire under the Ryman pews that wouldn't subside for the rest of the night. Little did we know, that was hardly the end of the night for the band.
After a traditional, pew-banging standing ovation, the band returned to the vast Ryman stage for an unforgettable encore that left a indelible impression on the audience and a signature on a great and memorable night. Opening the encore with "Weather with You" the band reminded everyone that "everywhere you go, always take the weather with you". Before telling the audience that he had watched Neil Young's Prairie Wind concert documentary (filmed at the Ryman), the band played a short and relevant cover of "After the Gold Rush" that put a personalized stamp of approval from the band on this particular evening.
After another short break, the band moonwalked, jigged, and danced their way on-stage for the second encore and played a rare "Kare-Kare" (Finn claimed it was the 4th time ever) and shared more humorous stories of their past before closing out the show with the appropriate "Four Seasons in One Day" and Neil Finn turned off the power to his acoustic guitar and played an intimate acoustic singalong to pay respect to the phenomenal harmony of the Nashville crowd. An unforgettable moment for us and I assume for Finn, the audience sang with a beautiful voice that could only be found in Music City. The crowded house applauded and even clamored for a 3rd encore as the house lights and music came on the band exited stage right. The words of "Better Be Home Soon" sums up the band's decision to return to the stage for the reunion by saying "It would cause me pain, if we were to end it, but I could start again, you can depend on it". Surely Crowded House has faced its number of demons following the loss of drummer and founding member Paul Hester, but they face adversity so well with their wittiness and jovial disposition. In rock-n-roll, the rolling part is the tie that binds a group of artists together and makes them a band. One can really feel the connection between the members of Crowded House and that is why they continue to flourish musically as a cohesive unit, or band.
Consider me a new fan, having now seen the band I realize that one needs to pay attention to the band's hopeful and literary words to fully appreciate the breadth of their work. Judging by the group's attitude and still keen instrumental talent, I would not be the least bit surprised to see Crowded House touring the U.S. again in the coming years.
7.5 out of 10