Neil Finn – London
London. Beautiful, enchanting, evocative London. I keep saying it, I keep meaning it. The one place I feel at home. Truly overwhelmed by its majesty, truly enchanted by its spellbinding power. Apt that it was to be my last stop on my Forty for Forty quest. Apt the great Neil Finn awaited my presence.
It had been a tiring week. It was a very tiring day. A multitude of things conspired, not least a delayed, then broken down train. I found myself in a darkened Kings Cross station, the sky had lost its light and the police were out in force outside, as were an army of Jesus worshippers.
For the first time ever, I chose to spend the night in a hostel. A mixture of adventure and cost cutting. It was easy to find and the receptionist was ultra-polite. My room, number 33, consisted of 2 bunk beds. Minimalistic I think you could call them – Dirty too.
Still, you get what you pay for and after dumping my stuff, it was out into the cold night air. Memories of my previous visit surrounded. Everywhere I looked, there was a reminder of my magical trip to see Nick Cave.
The tube wasn’t as busy as I had feared and with ears full of music, I wandered through the bustling underground until I reached Covent Garden. The gig was in Piccadilly, but I wanted to savour the sights and Christmas lights.
I found the venue and met up with the gathering Frenz. Tradition dictates now that we gather early for Neil Finn gigs. This is as much about community as it is getting a good view at standing or unreserved seat gigs.
This one was the latter as the venue, being a church, had no reserved seats, just pews. The Frenz were in good heart. And as I mentioned here – these people are amazing. And here we were again. Familiar faces, hugs and catching up on what had been going on since we last met.
And the Frenz had come from all over – A gathering of hearts and minds outside a church, But it wasn’t religion or a cult that bound us together in the cold evening air. But a love of music. Not just any music, but a love of Neil Finn. So at this point a reminder, there are gig reviews on the net – this is my experience, not a review.
We were stood outside for what felt like an eternity. Every so often, I would disappear to the venue and try figure out the best way to get my book signed. It was a small place, but 2 entrances. Neil Finn was already inside sound checking, but there was little chance of getting to him.
Even asking some nice church workers for help fell on deaf ears – this was proving to be just as hard as the Nick Cave gig. After hearing a song or two of the sound check, I gave up and decided to wait until after. Which wasn’t a bad thing and by the time my mate arrived with my ticket the queue was suddenly moving.
But it didn’t move far, just from the top gate to the door of the actual church, where we were made to stand around for another 40 minutes before the doors were opened an we entered the venue – all the good folk around me filled the first couple of rows, I was front row – great view other than Neil’s piano cover!
The church was decked out and ready for Christmas. Two huge trees stood proud behind Neil’s grand piano and the lighting made for a warm and welcoming environment. There were chairs for the string section and a smaller piano next to a drum kit. Quite a sparse setting really.
It was around 9pm that Neil finally entered the venue and by then it was packed. There was an eerie feeling in the room and a sense of occasion. This was a showcase for Neil’s upcoming album “Dizzy Heights“. Alongside him were a string section, led by the enchanting Victoria Kelly and a drummer named Chris.
Neil took a bow and sat at the piano, before launching into a song called “Divebomber”. An interesting song that has certainly divided the fans. It feels more like a movie soundtrack and sang all in falsetto, it was certainly a brave opening. Neil carried it off very well indeed.
The song was followed by the title track “Dizzy Heights”, which has had the opposite effect of Divebomber on the fans, indeed, the song has already become a clear favourite amongst many.
Still without really addressing the audience, Neil then went into “In My Blood”, another new song which went down well on the webcast, with such a catchy and soaring chorus about reincarnation. It was well received, as was “White Lies and Alibis”.
Neil was beginning to warm up now and the formal opening began to subside and the usual Finn wit that we have grown to love began to shine through. His next new song was “Lights of New York”, and he had sent out Chris, the drummer to go and get some city sounds to play over the top of the song – he recorded high heels!
Fellow New Zealander Connan Mockasin then joined Neil for a new song called “Gentle Dave”. An interesting one that will need to be listened to a few more times before any verdict is made for sure. The same can’t be said for the instantly catchy “Better Than TV”, which immediately hit home.
“Recluse” was then followed by an older song called “Sinner” – this is one of Neil’s best solo songs from the 1998 album “Try whistling this”. The church lighting went Red and it was played perfectly – and in such a setting too. “Impressions” was the last of the new songs on the night.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now” said Finn as the strings and Victoria Kelly left, leaving Neil and drummer Chris. The idea now was a shout out request show and all formality went out of the window.
However, Neil did start with an earlier request. It was our Frenz Val ‘s 100th live show and we had been tweeting Neil to see if he would dedicate a song for her and he did. A supreme piano version of “World Where You Live” leaving Val beaming from ear to ear.
My shout out request for “Faster Than Light” came next, at least, I think it was mine amongst the shouting voices. I claim it regardless! A faultless rendition of “Message To My Girl” followed, before Neil went “Into Temptation”– once again, a church a rather apt setting for the nature of the song.
It was clear that poor drummer Chris hadn’t quite understood the delicate nature of the song as he thumped along to it. Neil had given him a couple of glances, but at the end of the song, some wag shouted “Taxi For Chris” to which Neil went into a really funny improvisation. Perhaps he realised and spared the drummers blushes.
Someone asked for the obscure “Blue Hotel”, to which Neil couldn’t remeber the words. He asked someone to sing the first line and from the back of the church came a really beautiful and brave voice. Infact, he did it twice as Neil asked him to, but when Neil asked if he could play it on the piano, it was a no – which killed the moment sadly – Neil really has to learn his back catalouge for the tour!
As ever, “Private Universe” was spellbinding, and Victoria Kelly joined the stage for “Anytime” and the final song of the night “Distant Sun”, which had the whole church singing as one. It was over far too soon and the whole audience were on their feet wanting more.
Neil left us hanging and will return next year for a full UK tour. For a showcase, it had a nice balance. I think as a fan, I would have preferred and have been to more looser shows. But todays music business as it is, I think Neil got the balance about right on this one.
And with that, my book signing quest was on. But once again, I have had to leave it with a manager and keep my fingers crossed that the postman will deliver something very soon. By 11 pm, I was heading into central London and enjoying the sights and finding some distraction. The night air of London had a much colder feel tonight.
Sadly, I did not enjoy the hostel and being forced to move rooms at 3am was not fun. Still, another experience to add to my collection! So the Forty for Forty quest is now *paused* till 2014. More on that to come later, but in the meantime, here is the aforementioned “In my Blood” from the night.