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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.

 

Album Review: Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights

 
By on Thursday, 6th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Neil Finn Dizzy Heights coverIf a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a song that paints a picture? The logic may be somewhat circular, but therein lies the dilemma of writing about music, I suppose. The songs on Neil Finn‘s upcoming album, ‘Dizzy Heights’, are the kind that create sonic atmosphere without specific images, using sounds to suggest ideas without explicitly naming or explaining them. In short, they’re the kind of songs that defy articulate description.

‘Dizzy Heights’ is an album about euphoria: striving for euphoria, achieving euphoria, reminiscing on past euphoria. Lyrically, there is an overarching concern with interpersonal connection, as opposed to the pervasive superficiality of virtual relationships facilitated by social media. Musically, the songs center around foundational bass grooves that allow the melodies, harmonies, and song structures plenty of room to wander.

‘Impressions’ is a groovy, echoing track that sets the mood for the entire album with fuzzy percussion and airy backing vocals. The string ensemble creates a broadly dramatic orchestral effect, here and on several other tracks, pushing the limits of traditional pop song structure even farther than Finn has in the past (think about the somewhat amorphous forms of ‘Try Whistling This’ or ‘The Climber’). Similarly, title track ‘Dizzy Heights’ is built on a smooth, lounge-y groove, and fragmented, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, such as the chorus: “Smoke drifting up to the dizzy heights / Where the elevator won’t come down / And the ceiling cracks like a treasure map / The mosquitoes buzzing round and round.” In a sidelong acknowledgement of his new, more intuitive rhythmic style, Finn comments, “If you don’t like the groove, then call the cops”.

The most artistically experimental track on the album is ‘Divebomber’, reviewed here when it was released in November 2013. The album’s first single release, ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, expected alongside the album release on the 10th of February, is much more straightforward, both in terms of song structure and instrumentation. In the same vein, ‘Better Than TV’ has a clear-cut pop structure grounded by a heavy keyboard ostinato which allows for flexibility in the vocal line as Finn sings, “If there is a chance, if there is a chance / That you wanted to dance, that you wanted to sing / Don’t die wondering, was there something missing?”

Finn has often been coy about his lyrics and subject matter, keen to let his listeners take their own meaning from what he writes. He has discussed the unique inspiration for ‘Divebomber’ and, in an interview with The Guardian, revealed that ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was instigated by his encounter with Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of child-murder then exonerated after 18 years in prison.

Then there are songs like the exquisite ‘Lights of New York’, which is more difficult to pin down. Full of poignant but obscure imagery, there is no real emotional or musical development, but it feels vaguely like a love song, with the lyric, “As bridges stand against the tide / Satellites move across the sky / In all the years that I have seen you rise / You never look so supreme / When you’re lit by the lights of New York.” Ambient noise behind the piano and strings implies life passing by, outside the nostalgic introspection of the lyrics. The lilting piano melody at the end has the potential to develop into something further, but Finn lets it drift away, leaving behind a sense of melancholy, along with a lingering smile.

‘Dizzy Heights’ might not have the immediate impact of Neil Finn’s earlier pop hits, but it does have some finely-tuned emotional moments as it expands upon Finn’s already remarkable ability to create an atmospheric effect both with his lyrics and his music. Here, Finn displays a willingness, even a determination, to expand beyond the formula that has worked so well for him in the past. This record might fall into the art-rock category, but Finn flashes just enough pop sensibility to keep longtime fans from feeling completely disoriented by his euphoric explorations.

8.5/10

‘Dizzy Heights’ is due out on next Monday, the 10th of February on Lester Records via Kobalt Label Services. ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, its first single, will be released on the same day; stream the single below.

 

Neil Finn / April and May 2014 UK and Irish Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 26th November 2013 at 9:00 am
 

Neil Finn has just announced a series of live dates in the UK and Ireland in support of his upcoming album, ‘Dizzy Heights’. The album, Finn’s first solo record since 2001’s ‘One Nil’, will be released on the 10th of February 2014, along with a single called ‘Flying in the Face of Love’. In the meantime, check out ‘Divebomber’ here.

Tickets for the following shows go on sale this Friday, the 29th of November, at 9 AM.

Wednesday 23rd April 2014 – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Thursday 24th April 2014 – Gateshead Sage
Saturday 26th April 2014 – Bristol Colston Hall
Sunday 27th April 2014 – Manchester Lowry
Monday 28th April 2014 – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Wednesday 30th April 2014 – Dublin Olympia
Saturday 3rd May 2014 – London Royal Festival Hall
Sunday 4th May 2014 – Cambridge Corn Exchange
Monday 5th May 2014 – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

 

In the Post #114: Neil Finn announces new album ‘Dizzy Heights’, offers up ‘Divebomber’ teaser

 
By on Thursday, 7th November 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Jen Carey

New Zealand pop veteran Neil Finn has released the video for ‘Divebomber’, the lead single from his forthcoming solo album ‘Dizzy Heights’, following a live webcast of a rehearsal session for the new songs. The rehearsal featured Finn on piano and acoustic guitar, accompanied by a full orchestra, and also contained an audience participation element, with Finn answering questions submitted in real time via Twitter and Facebook. If you missed the live Webcast, it is now archived at Finn’s Web site and can be viewed here.

In the webcast, Finn remarked that several of the songs on ‘Dizzy Heights’ include large arrangements with either orchestra or full band, revealing the expansive direction of the new material. “I didn’t want to make it a solo record in a stripped back singer-songwriter sort of way,” he says, explaining his collaboration on the record with co-producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala) and fellow New Zealand musicians Connan Mockasin and Sean Donnelly (SJD).

Though he is best known for the catchy pop tunes of Crowded House, Finn has always seemed to take inspiration for his songwriting from unexpected sources, particularly in his solo material. ‘Divebomber’ was inspired by a 1941 film of the same name, which received an Oscar nomination for its vibrant cinematography. Finn’s ‘Divebomber’ video is less boldly graphic, instead using video footage from a beach vacation in Greece overlaid by diffuse aerial cloud imagery to match the discordant, unsettled tone of the musical setting. But the track’s soaring strings, marching percussion and breathy vocals reflect the heroic and tragic nature of the film’s plot line, as well as the bravery and risk involved in Finn’s recent songwriting ventures. As the song’s lyrics state, ‘There’s only one way down’, and with ‘Divebomber’, Finn has taken a headlong plunge into uncharted territory.

7.5/10

‘Dizzy Heights’ will be released on 10 February 2014 via Lester Records / Kobalt Label Services. Watch the video for ‘Divebomber’ below. Finn will be playing a one-off show at St. James’ Church in London on 27 November but the gig is already sold out.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks_-25Fgh5U[/youtube]

 
 
 

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