For every other stereotypical adherent to 80s pop and rock culture that seemed to fade away with the end of the decade, there would occasionally rise a union of musicians that would find prominence during the height of said era yet be adaptable enough to transition into the next subsequent era like a chameleon slightly changing its color to fix a new habitat. While those of us in the states tend to point to bands such as R.E.M. as an example of a reasonably successful 80s-born band making it almost equally big in the radically different landscape of the early 90s, the New Zealand rock outfit Crowded House is arguably the most auspicious example of the aforementioned phenomenon, having rode the later end of the New Wave craze in the mid-80s with a string of well received hits off their 1986 eponymous debut album, yet due to a fairly eclectic array of influences that included jangle pop and a nuanced amount of indie and alternative tendencies that would become a bit more pronounced later on.
With the rich and diverse catalog of albums that would following into the mid-90s, appealing to a variety of markets from their native New Zealand, Australia and even as far as America, and further material commencing after their 2006 reunion, they’ve become something of a cultural mainstay from Generation Jones all the way to the younger end of the Millennial cohort. It is in this context that this now veteran rock outfit took to the stage on their island home to deliver a grand concert event at the tail end of the Covid-19 pandemic, bring out a varied selection of now classic hits, deep tracks and newer material to the live stream medium in the lead up to the summer of 2021. In some ways they seemed to embody the mannerisms and jovial stage presence normally exhibited by the likes of The Rolling Stones, though front man and chief songwriter Neil Finn would sooner pass for a happy medium between Bob Dylan and Tom Petty with guitar in hand than he would the boisterous impresario in Mick Jagger.
Taking to the stage with the sound of an elated audience off in the distance, the show that would commence was a measured yet highly organic display of playful arrangements with a witty tone. The opening number “Weather With You” off 1991’s “Woodface” functioned as a charming, folksy acoustic warm up with a jolly chorus hook and an equally infectious undistorted lead guitar display. Things take on a more hard rocking tone on the groovy “Mean To Me” off their debut album, fully embodying that latent alternative rock tendency that the band had has far back as 1986 and made the amenable to the early 90s Gen X crowd years later. Things already seem to be taking on a variety show character by the time their next song “World Where You Live”, also from the debut album, is trotted out in its mellow, almost bluesy demeanor and Travelling Wilburys-inspired chorus with the whole arrangement of instruments and harmonizing vocals in perfect synchronicity.
As the show progresses, the variety follows suit and the instrumentalists backing Finn’s cheeky narratives fail to run out of surprises. Highlight moments include The Beatles inspired bluesy rocker “In My Command”, which almost sounds like an indie reinterpretation of “Drive My Car” with a playful organ line thrown in for good measure, as well as the quirky new wave romp “Whatever You Want”, which almost sounds like it’s occasionally channeling both The Talking Heads and Devo despite being one of the offerings off this band’s recently released opus “Dreamers Are Waiting.” But the moments that would ultimately steal the show came just prior to the encore, with the trifecta of mid-80s radio blockbusters “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” and their equally impactful 1993 cousin “Distant Sun”. It was the perfect conclusion to a brilliant night, and the handful of songs that would follow them seemed almost superfluous, but between the good humors of Neil’s in-between anecdotes there wasn’t a dull moment regardless.
Although this writer comes from a musical persuasion that is measured more so in decibels piled on top of each other than fun tunes with a smile, there is a certain universal appeal that this veteran act from decades ago was able to communicate that struck even his ears as wildly entertaining. Admittedly, I came to follow this New Zealand outfit via the most metal of contexts, namely hearing “Don’t Dream It’s Over” during the iconic scene at the beginning of the 2nd part of Steven King’s The Stand miniseries with Molly Ringwald playing the record to a melancholy night of silence with a montage of scenes of dead victims of the great plague that swept over all of America. In a roundabout way, Neil Finn himself actually spoke to this during one of his in-between song talks, reminiscing on a recent song request by a fan in a Slayer t-shirt, which along with another humorous quip inviting the fans to mosh to one of their slightly harder rocking songs, grabbed my attention about as much as their older radio hits that I’d encountered previously. This was a concert meant for people of all walks of life, and a greater number of them would do well to check this live stream out before it concludes at midnight of June 20th.