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In concert: Crowded House at Wolf Trap

ralph stanleyCrowded House took requests via paper airplane at Wolf Trap on Monday. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

By Chris Klimek

There exists somewhere an alternate universe where Neil Finn is merely a frustrated elementary school music teacher and not the frontman for Crowded House. At Wolf Trap Monday night, the affable singer/songwriter kept trying to get the audience to sing in sections. As fundamental a text in melody and harmony as his songbook is, he couldn’t get the crowd to do anything more sophisticated than repeat-after-him on “Weather With You” or “Better Be Home Soon.”

Fortunately, he was in strong voice himself. Touring in support of “Intriguer,” the second Crowded House album since the 52-year-old Finn reconvened the band in 2007 after a decade-long hiatus, he and his bespoke-suited associates devoted nearly a third of their 115-minute, 23-song set to tunes not old enough to drive, weaving them in among a baker’s dozen corralled on the group’s 1996 best-of collection.

The newer material contributed some highlights: “Isolation” started off ethereal and trippy, but turned bloody before its time-shifting finale. (The older “Private Universe” had already introduced a welcome strain of psychedelia to Finn’s elegant, disciplined minor-key pop.) The elder Finn invited his son Liam (several albums into his own career) to sing and play on “Say That Again,” with a chorus that begins, “You’ve got to be your own man.”

Finn indulged two requests for rarities, with one — “There Goes God” — submitted via stagebound paper airplane. He dedicated the other, “Italian Plastic,” to its author, original Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, who committed suicide in 2005.

With its internally-illuminated lawn ornaments of geese, mushrooms, and what looked to be short guys in mustaches, the stage set evoked the video game “Super Mario Brothers,” a reference point as musty as, well, Crowded House. But the performance felt very much a thing of the present.

By Chris Klimek  |  July 27, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Crowded House  
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If Don Henley or Paul McCartney could write and preform like Neil Finn the world would be a much richer place. How most have missed what Crowded House and their music has and does convey makes me scratch my head. Last night we were treated to much more that the golden oldies on the Wolf Trap Summer circuit band/groups trying to milk us for a buck and leaning on past laurals. What a treat. And the weather was good too.

Posted by: teamsimple | July 27, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Gorgeous, lush pop tunes. I liked the new stuff almost as much as the old, though "Weather With You" was the clear high point of the evening.

I liked Lawrence Arabia, too-- quixotic but equally engaging New Zealanders. The song about drinking "expensive coffee" resonated.

Posted by: lauraoev | July 27, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klimek was apparently absent from or asleep during the extended and moving audience sing-along for "Four Seasons in One Day." I've seen nearly 100 concerts in my lifetime and this was unquestionably in the top 10. Finn's rapport with the audience and his band was extraordinary. The bands ability to synthesize music in a live setting was unparalled. I was literally in tears during Distant Sun. Thank you Crowded House, I will never forget this concert. Lawrence Arabia really warmed us up too!!

Posted by: abrooks1 | July 28, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Well, since Klimek has commented about the stage tchotchkes and the Kumbaya audience participation elements of the performance (much the same as he did in his 2008 review of CH at the 9:30 Club), I will open up an auxiliary topic that will leave me open for an eye rolling response. I’m wondering, what’s the downside to using supertitles at large performance venues, maybe not for retreads like Foreigner or Journey, but for bands that have new material out, and are fronted, like CH, by talented, interesting lyricists? Most rock bands in concert have a muddy overlay to their sound which obscures individual words. If you know a song well, it’s perhaps easy to convince yourself that others can make out what the hell the singers are going on about. In opera houses, supertitles afford us the possibility of knowing what overwrought sentiments are being expressed in Italian (or German) by all those trussed up tenors. In rock pavilions, where we are often hamstrung by a Spinal Tap “11” volume level and electronic smudging of vocals, we can only appreciate something of the sound qualities of a piece—and not the lyricist’s message. Hand up—“I don’t get it.” I know that garbled and misunderstood lyrics has a great tradition in rock music and has been satirized by SNL etc. to our great delight but really, who are we trying to impress by not admitting we’d like to experience the whole of a song? I was not in the sweet spot last night ---but Row K (not too far from center) is not Wolf Trap’s far side of the moon. Amplified electronic music (except maybe at a Stones or U2 mega production) does not lend itself to vocal clarity. Why can’t we get over ourselves and get the words as a visual? Roger Water’s was using a type of supertitle board more than a decade ago; projecting them behind Crowded House last night would not have been much lamer than the torn paper motif overlaid with disco ball reflections someone chose as backdrop…

Posted by: mewesley | July 28, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

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