Liam Finn: 5 April 2011 – Chicago

Liam Finn

We should get the obligatory statement of Finn’s lineage out of the way at the start; New Zealand’s Liam Finn is the son of Neil Finn, of Crowded House fame. It proves a difficult task to find anything written about Liam without reference to his father but the man is truly a force in his own right.

In his youth, Finn likely instilled a fear into the hearts of parents, or at the very least, a sort of trepidation whenever around their progeny. It is not that Finn seems like he was an intentionally wicked child or even unlikeable. He actually comes across as an incredibly charming fellow, but he possesses that sort of restless energy that can never stray far from trouble. You know the type of kid, the one who without warning tosses a snowball at a passing police car because he was bored. We curse as we set off dashing through backyards and over fences after them and yet we somehow can’t stay away.

The evening began rather slowly, offering little clue to the energetic performance that lay ahead. In hindsight, it was a bit like the warming hum of an engine shortly before a drag race. Finn, armed with guitar in hand, stepped up on the stage alone to play a few disjointed chords and notes, layering these tracks on top of each other by recording them into loops. Before long a song emerged and he took a seat at his kit, adding drums to the slow rolling groove he had just recorded. It’s a nifty little trick that he would utilize again throughout the night and characteristic of his live shows. While still seated at the drums, Finn was joined on stage by a guitar/bass player and another drummer, whom we would eventually learn was his little brother, Elroy. After a comical exit and re-entry onto the stage, Finn was back behind his guitar and the trio seamlessly rolled into “I’ll Be Lighting,” the title track from Finn’s incredibly infectious 2007 solo debut. The band picked up the pace for “Better to Be”, that record’s opening song, before attempting a new number titled “Cold Feet” from a forthcoming album. Over the course of the night the band dipped into Finn’s solo debut for almost the entire set, save for a few new, unreleased tracks, while opting to avoid material from 2009’s Champagne in Seashells EP.

After that new song, the trio dashed through a couple of upbeat numbers, “Remember When” and “Energy Spent”, before slowing the tempo down with “Wise Man” and “Gather to the Chapel”. The band announced to the audience it was a first show of sorts, having just recently parted ways with their old bass player, but it was clear they were comfortable on stage together. The atmosphere was light as the band added comic relief in-between songs (what is it about Kiwis that makes them so amicable and endearing?). The mood did get serious for a brief moment, as Finn dedicated a new song, “Roll of the Eye”, to the people of New Zealand, in reference to the recent earthquake. Of course, the air did not stay heavy for long however as the dedication quickly devolved into a discussion about people from Alabama going to the bathroom in their backyard. The set came to a close with “Second Chance”, the best track from his debut and the wildly erratic “Lead Balloon”. During the latter, Finn grabbed a mini-Theremin device and took to the front of the stage to allow someone from the audience to control the sound waves, before finally bringing the song to a close with some wild, unabashed screaming into his mic.

For the encore, Finn was back on stage alone for a rendition of “Fire in Your Belly” and another instrumental created on the spot using looped guitar tracks and drums. While he seems to possess an ability to write delicate, intricate pop songs with ease, Finn’s heart belongs behind the drum kit; his ramshackle style influenced by the likes of Keith Moon and Animal. However Finn perhaps described his style best during an extended pause in a drum solo. As he paused in wait, staring at the crowd, someone from the audience shouted, “Don’t fuck it up” to which Finn smiled and retorted “It’s just like feeding a child”, before jumping back in. To close the set, the other members then joined him on stage for a rendition of “This Place Is Killing Me”.

The live performance does lack some of the more subtle electronic nuances of his records, but he more than makes up for it with an engaging, energetic performance which cannot fully be captured in a recording. In the end, the only thing in the room that could even compete with Finn’s restless energy was his impressive talent as a musician.