We broke up better than anything else we ever did really.
In the hierarchy of criminally underappreciated bands—in America, at least—Crowded House rank pretty high. After making a big splash with hits like “Better Be Home Soon”, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, and “Something So Strong”, Crowded House pretty much fell from the American consciousness. In places like England and Australia, they were greeted like pop gods. Here in America? Feh.
It’s easy to take some kind of moral high ground when it comes to America’s tepid response. To remind yourself that America was where pop audiences took stalker anthems like the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and opaque kiss-offs like R.E.M.‘s “The One I Love” to their hearts as straightforward love songs, suitable for playing at weddings. No, you tell yourself. Better for Neil Finn to have never picked up a guitar than for his songs to be subjected to those… those philistines. We wouldn’t have known what to do with a lyric like “I get your tongue in the mail” anyway.
But that’s the wrong attitude. I mean, if you pay too much attention to the logic of the pop charts, you’ll grow confused and bitter before love, politics, or age get a proper chance to do the job. Crowded House wrote beautiful, nuanced songs, and at his best, Neil Finn could make a pop song sound like it originated in some delicate alternate universe. No, you finally decide, it was right for Crowded House to be heard, if only by the few.
When Crowded House finally broke up in 1996, playing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House to 120,000 people, it probably went unnoticed by many. But those who had witnessed Crowded House’s growth through 1993’s creative peak, Together Alone, knew that something unique was gone. As good as Neil Finn’s subsequent solo albums were, they boasted a different, leaner personality than the Crowded House years.
The release of Farewell to the World marks the 10th anniversary of that Sydney farewell show, and it’s a fine reminder of what made the band so special. Reportedly, Finn was reluctant to do the show, considering the idea a little “vulgar”. But with the show’s proceeds going to charity, and with the crowd jumping at any chance for a singalong, this final bow is represented by, if nothing else, a generosity of spirit flowing in both directions between the band and its fans.
As Crowded House shows go, it’s a good one, full of fan favorites. The emotional setting notwithstanding, the band’s in solid form, and in good spirits. There are a few extended jams to wrap up songs like “Private Universe” or “Better Be Home Soon”, a few moments of levity like a chaotic snippet of “Climb Every Mountain” to round out “Sister Madly”, and even a cover of Hunters and Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me”. And of course, it ends the only way it can, with an emotional delivery of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, complete with robust crowd participation. Long overdue, it’s the first proper live account of Crowded House (the live bonus disc that accompanied the Recurring Dream retrospective was killer, but was spliced together from numerous performances), proving that the band’s Beatleisms and quirks translated well to the stage.
It’s a shame, though, that this CD version of Farewell to the World loses nearly all of the between-song banter that you find on the DVD. Drummer Paul Hester, famed for keeping things lively between songs, was considered by many to be the hidden heart and soul of the band, and he (and the band as a whole) was in fine form on this night. There certainly seems to be room for the complete show, as each disc currently clocks in at under 60 minutes, so it’s an odd editing choice—one that masks a distinct part of the band’s personality on a disc that’s ostensibly meant to celebrate the band’s spirit as much as its music.
Hester committed suicide in 2005, effectively ending Crowded House as the majority of fans know it. So it was surprising to hear that the band is currently auditioning drummers for an album and reunion tour, starting with an appearance at April’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Even though the band won’t be the same, the “reunion” will give a new crop of listeners the chance to hear Crowded House’s songs, and that’s never a bad thing. With a tour, a new album, and the release of Farewell to the World, 2007 finds the band making up for plenty of lost time. Regardless of how the rest of the year turns out, Farewell to the World is a fine souvenir of the band’s glory years.
// Notes from the Road
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