Live Review: Neil Finn with Midlake at Lincoln Theater, Washington DC – 12th April 2014

By on Monday, 21st April 2014 at 2:00 pm

Photos by Carrie Clancy and Mary Chang

It’s always exciting to see a favourite artist live, and I had been happily awaiting Neil Finn’s show at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC for weeks before the day actually arrived. That kind of gleeful anticipation can occasionally lead to a bit of a letdown if the show isn’t quite up to par, but Finn and his band of cohorts seemed particularly determined not to disappoint on the night, and they most definitely didn’t. The evening was a mix of happily obliged expectations and a few surprises, both planned and spontaneous.

The first of those pleasant surprises for me was opening band Midlake, who played an acoustic set with only three of their usual six members in attendance. Hailing from Denton, Texas, Midlake were an interesting choice of guests for Finn, but the chemistry between the two acts was clear. The Lincoln Theater show was the last on the North American tour, and the bands celebrated it by comingling freely, with Finn appearing on stage to play piano on one of Midlake’s tunes and members of Midlake returning the favor at several points during Finn’s set.

Midlake played a handful of songs from their debut record, ‘Antiphon’, pointing out several times that these versions were “stripped down especially for Neil Finn.” I quite enjoyed their streamlined sound, especially the deft and dexterous use of the flute in several of their arrangements by keyboard player Jesse Chandler. Midlake closed their set in appropriate fashion for an acoustic set, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released.’ I’ll admit to not being very familiar with Midlake before this show, but I was impressed enough to chase down their frontman, Eric Pulido, for a quick interview after the show (stay tuned for that audio clip in the coming days).

Midlake’s atmospheric sound and stream-of-consciousness lyrics were a perfect foreshadow for the songs from ‘Dizzy Heights’ (reviewed here), two of which opened Finn’s set. Hazy album opener ‘Impressions’ and debut single ‘Flying in The Face of Love’ both played perfectly off the psychedelic stage backdrop. From that point forward, Finn interspersed older hit songs with the newer ones, touching on Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn Brothers, and Pajama Club tunes throughout the set.

While the older numbers were inevitably well received by Finn’s audience of diehard fans and Frenz, I was most impressed with how comfortably the ‘Dizzy Heights’ songs fell into the playlist. Finn gave the new songs full attention and full arrangements, which highlighted them against the creative and often sparser reworkings of some of the older songs. ‘Better Than TV’ and ‘In My Blood’ were both charged with energy, and ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was absolutely electric toward the end of the set. The last played of the new songs, ‘Pony Ride’ was performed with special energy for Finn’s father, who was in attendance via the magic of Skype.

Finn’s onstage banter included several references to Bruce Springsteen’s recent Australian tour and the marathon-length gigs The Boss puts on, even at this late point in his career. Finn was apparently inspired enough to emulate Springsteen in his own shows; according to a printed set list nabbed from the stage, Finn had planned a lengthy set for DC, and while he did eventually deviate from his own agenda, he most certainly didn’t cut the song list short. He mentioned that he was trying to honor as many last minute fan requests as possible, which led to a widely varied set, including a few rare gems, such as the extended jam in ‘Chocolate Cake’ and a loungey piano version of Split Enz track ‘Message to My Girl.’ I was near to ecstatic when Finn closed the set proper with a personal favorite of mine, solo hit ‘She Will Have Her Way’.

Naturally, Finn acknowledged the customary and genuinely enthusiastic crowd request for an encore. (At this point, a disclaimer: I went into fully-fledged fangirl mode during the encore, dancing and singing along rather than taking notes. The actual encore deviated significantly from the set list in the above photo.) He broke out several fan favorites, playing to the heady desires of his audience, including an exquisite version of ‘Private Universe’ utilizing the vocal and instrumental talents of Midlake. Having already touched on the ubiquitous ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ earlier in the set, Finn chose to end the evening with an impromptu and delightful performance of ‘Weather With You’.

Neil Finn takes his ‘Dizzy Heights’ tour to the UK and Ireland starting next week. Full tour date listings can be found here.

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2 Responses

[…] the opportunity to catch Neil Finn at his sold out show at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC (reviewed here). One of the highlights of that gig was the opening act, a band from Denton, Texas called Midlake. […]

[…] with band members from Midlake, who I had the pleasure of seeing in DC last month (read that review here). Grant recorded his second album, the highly acclaimed ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, in his adopted […]

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