It was clear as we all picked our jaws up off the floor that Liam Finn had put on a show others reach for but can hardly pull off.
A small crowd, even in the most intimate of settings, can be a gift and a curse. Depending on the band or artist playing, you might be privy to a lackadaisical performance based on the fact that someone's wallet isn't getting thicker. At the other end of the spectrum, though, you could be treated to a show where the enthusiasm of the fans, no matter how many, is matched by the individuals on stage. Luckily, for the few of us at Providence’s Club Hell, Liam Finn and The Veils played their hearts out. The awkward silence brooding between songs was only felt sparingly as both acts did their best to keep the crowd on its toes with lighthearted, sometimes downright silly, humor that ranged from hating on the band playing upstairs to being hypnotized by a mesmerizing car commercial. The Veils abruptly took the stage while many of us were still socializing at the bar. Frontman Finn Andrews and his crew grabbed their instruments as he nodded, said hello, and prepared for an eight-song set list mostly filled with killer new tracks. (Just in case you were wondering, their third album is finished and should come out early next year.) The band kicked things off with a gorgeous new ballad called "Scarecrow" in which Andrews' aching voice meshed perfectly with guest vocalist, and Liam Finn collaborator, Eliza-Jane Barnes. After she left the stage The Veils launched into a rollicking pair of cuts off their sophomore album, Nux Vomica. Those tracks, "Calliope!" and "Jesus for the Jugular", brought the entranced crowd into pseudo-dance mode as Andrews wailed on his guitar and built a solid wall of noise. The steady pace continued for "Three Sisters", a straightforward rocker with a slight country twang, and "Sit Down by the Fire", which would fit in on their debut, The Runaway Found. Although they slowed it down a bit with "Advice for Young Mothers to Be", The Veils brought the ruckus for "Killed by the Boom". Even though it was a track no one had heard before, "Killed by the Boom" got plenty of people tapping or nodding along to the song’s infectious guitar riff. Rounding out their set was "Not Yet", another delight from Nux Vomica. Andrews put all he had into this one, screaming out the chorus with a sense of urgency while beating his guitar, which had lost a string earlier in the set. Although Andrews and his crew were mostly reserved, they did not hold back anything while playing. And they did joke here and there, particularly when the frontman became hypnotized by a car commercial playing on a nearby television. But, besides being a stellar opener, they warmed up the crowd for what would be a phenomenal performance by Liam Finn and the aforementioned Barnes. The pair began by ripping into “Better to Be” off Finn’s debut, I’ll Be Lightning. It was an excellent way to kick off the set, as it became an epic, sprawling mix of guitar loops and soaring vocals. The track also provided an ample introduction to Finn’s eccentricity that can only be truly harnessed in a live setting. He might come across as experimental in the studio, but his music takes on another life in concert. Also, his alt-folk leanings are mostly replaced by heavier riffs and crashing drums, both of which echoed throughout the tiny club. The duo’s enthusiasm continued through the stunning “Energy Spent” and “I’ll Be Lightning”, the latter of which sounded like a hybrid of the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Again, Finn looped several riffs and even some vocal harmonies while bashing his drum set. Yet, as impressive as it was, it was eclipsed by his and Barnes’ displeasure of the sound coming from the upstairs venue. Both joked that there was an invisible bassist in the room and that what they could hear sounded like “pussy metal.” Thus began the ongoing noise battle between Club Hell and Jerky’s, which sits above the venue. Dubbed “Fuck Off Metal” by Finn, they ripped into a “tribute” to one of his favorite groups, Lightning Bolt, which calls Providence home. By now it was time to slow things down and take a breather as the headliner proclaimed that he and his partner were “going to get a little mellow.” And even though a drastic pace change of this kind is risky for any act, it really didn’t matter as Finn has the crowd eating out of his hand. You could not help but swoon during the beautiful love ballad “Remember When” and the gorgeous “Gather to the Chapel”, which brought Finn’s brother Elroy to the stage to play acoustic guitar. And just as he had done earlier, Finn launched into another jam. This one was not dedicated to the metalheads upstairs but to his array of pedals that had begun crapping out. With a gimmicky show like his, he explained, something like this is bound to happen. But Barnes quickly disputed his claim, telling him that his show was anything but gimmicky. Everyone either laughed or nodded in approval as the duo played a fantastic interpretation of “Second Chance”. Up next was what Finn said is typically his last song before leaving for a few minutes to build anticipation for an encore. But with such a small venue, he said, the encore concept is kind of unnecessary. He then added that the track he was about to play, “Lead Balloon”, is one that makes him “go fucking mental.” Finn could not have been more accurate. He beat his guitar like it was a drum head and played all over the stage, eventually ending up on the dance floor, where he laid on his back to bang out some riffs. He also incorporated the crowd into the track, recording our repeated “YEAH!”s and looping them. For the “encore” Finn's brother and a friend joined him onstage for “This Place is Killing Me”, which was followed by “Wise Man”. The latter featured some of the best builds and transitions as he took us all from the lowest lows to the highest highs with ease. They then played a track, “Who’s Coming Through the Window”, by Finn’s old band, Betchadupa. His friend played guitar as Finn took to the drum kit. “I have to have him play [guitar] because I always fuck it up,” Finn remarked. After a quick shot of liquor, Barnes and Finn cut back on their antics for a soothing take on “Wide Awake on the Voyage Home”, one of I’ll Be Lightning’s best cuts. But they were not going to go out like that. They closed out the night with another “metal” jam that ended with Finn face down on the stage. Before hitting the floor, though, he proved why his show was anything but gimmicky. As the club kids began wandering in, Finn was assaulting his drums one last time as he used his left foot to work in various guitar riffs and effects. And he did so with such precision that everyone, even those guys next to me who had just walked in, could not help but drool in amazement. His skill for manipulating sound is uncanny and is truly something to behold. It was clear as we all picked our jaws up off the floor that Finn had put on a show others reach for but can hardly pull off. Although loops have become a staple of live acts over the years, few execute it with such brilliance. Finn didn’t waste anytime between switching instruments. And he didn’t try to be unique or bigger than he was. Instead, he just put on one hell of a show that more people will no doubt come to recognize very soon.