All my life I’ve been a pretty serious concert-goer. From my first concert (Hall and Oates) in 1982, through my decade spent working in a music store, to now, I estimate that I’ve seen well over 200 concerts. But heading into the Crowded House concert at Massey Hall in Toronto on Monday night, I realized that never in my life had I been a fan of a musical artist for so long (20+ years) before actually seeing them perform live. I struggled to try and think of another band or artist that would fall under that category, but since my chances of seeing Queen in concert are pretty slim, the only other one that I could really identify would be Prince.
Having said that, the buildup to this show was pretty interesting. I knew for a couple of months that I was going, but with how busy the summer has been, it kind of snuck up on me, and I didn’t really register that the day had actually arrived until I was at work on Monday, when I found myself exceptionally excited. Yes, I’m 37 years old, but I was flat out giddy in the hours leading up to the show.
I had read an interview with Neil Finn last week talking about the new tour and the new album, and it mentioned that this new album (out today in North America) was their 6th album. That didn’t seem right. I knew that they had broken up for about a decade, but still…only 6 albums? So I looked it up, and sure enough, there were only 6 albums – 2 in the 80s, 2 in the 90s, one in 2007, and the new one, Intriguer. When you factor in live albums, greatest hits compilations, Neil Finn’s solo albums, The Finn Brothers, and maybe even Split Enz, then the bigger family picture starts to make sense…but as far as studio albums go, there are only six.
And consider this, when the greatest hits compilation, Recurring Dream, came out in 1996, it had 19 tracks on it…and only 3 were new. So 16 songs were taken from only 4 studio albums at the time. And none of it was filler…it was a true “Best Of” album. Not some garbage like a 26-song double disc Ultimate Kansas collection where you only know 2 songs. Don’t believe me? Check this out…and appreciate that there is a limited edition with a third disc and seven more songs.
For this show, I went with one of my oldest and closest friends, Val. It had probably been close to a decade since Val and I had gone to a concert together, so that was a nice treat. I mean, we had gone in groups with our circle of friends, but it was nice to have a night out with a good friend. We met up with some other friends before the show and had dinner at a really nice traditional Italian restaurant in Toronto. Val and I are both Italian, and we found it very difficult to pick just one thing on the menu, since it was just fantastic. (check it out at www.terroni.ca) When I say the menu was fantastic, consider this…Val printed off a copy to bring to her parents’ house and show them. The food lived up to expectations, and I look forward to going back.
The concert itself was at Massey Hall, which is a great place to see a show in Toronto. From my first time there seeing The Grapes of Wrath in 1991, to my last visit just this past April to see Craig Ferguson’s comedy tour, it is one of my favourite venues to see a show. I love the rustic and traditional theater feeling…the balconies overhanging, the old-fashioned wood floor on the stage, the bar in the basement, and the entire atmosphere in general. We had tickets in the fourth row on the floor, so it was a pretty great vantage to watch the show.
I was looking at the crowd and recognizing that the average fan in attendance was probably between 35-50 years old. I noticed a smattering of people gathered at the front of the stage area, and I thought to myself, Crowded House isn’t really the kind of show you would gather around the stage for, is it? I mean, I lived those days when I was younger, when it was no problem to stand wherever for a show…but I feel old when I’m at a concert now, and damn it, I want a seat! I’m at the point in my concert-going life where I may just avoid the concert if I don’t have a seat. Sure, maybe I’ll get up and dance with the rest of the crowd if the moment hits me and it’s appropriate, but I want that option to sit down. I need that.
So we’re watching as maybe a dozen people are gathered around the front of the stage waiting for the show to begin, and I began to think how different a concert in 1988 would have been for these guys compared to 2010. Back then, I’m sure there were dancing girls in front of the stage, but they assuredly looked different than the 40-something moms that were waiting to get a closer look at Neil and the boys. I’m not trying to paint that as a negative, it’s just an evolution of fans, and there’s something to be said for maintaining and keeping a fan base, even for a band that wasn’t together for a decade. Let’s be honest, these 40-something moms were probably the dancing girls in 1988.
When the band took the stage, the crowd was pretty excited…as was I…and as they broke into their first song, the die-hards up front were right into it, dancing along. Aside from the excitement of the moment, it was slightly alarming seeing Neil Finn with a moustache, and not because he necessarily looks bad with it, but rather because with the moustache and his hair, he looked exactly like my high school religion teacher, Mr. Hynes. I’ll be honest, it took me a couple of songs to shake that image.
It was interesting watching some of the crowd in the audience, and the ways they had of showing their appreciation. For instance, I never understood why young girls scream at concerts…it sounds horrible and essentially just makes your throat sore. What’s the point? Am I missing the upside? There was no screaming from this crowd, but good old-fashioned cheering, lots of standing and clapping, and a few whistles. Just us old folks knowing how to applaud, I guess.
But then I saw this guy in the front row, a sweaty bundle of energy in his 40s, who, after every song would jump up and scream “WOOOOOOO!” while clapping his hands straight above his head. It was very awkward to watch…with his ridiculous full-arms-extended-up clapping, he looked like a porpoise waiting for someone to throw him a fish from the stage.
After a couple of songs, Neil Finn pointed out that it was nice to have some people up front, and that if others wanted to come up, to feel free. Well, as you would imagine, the Porpoise Guy was the first one out of his seat and right in front of the stage. A bunch of others came out of their floor seats and wandered up by the stage, so that the group of 8-10 was now around 40-50. I looked at Val and asked if she wanted to go up, praying she would say no. She immediately said “I’m just fine here”, and I was reminded why she is one of my best friends. We were only 4 rows back, so our view was still fine, but now all of the people in the front row couldn’t see. I’ll tell you, if I paid for front row tickets for a concert without general admission, and ending up not being able to see, I’d be pretty pissed off. I was sure that the staff was going to do something, but no one ever came down and the crowd stayed up front for the whole show.
The show was a great balance of new and old, with the band playing essentially all of the songs from the new album, which I first heard last week, and many of the classics, all mixed together in the set list (see above) to keep old and new fans alike happy. It was very laid-back and mellow without being sleepy or boring, and the vibe in the room was pretty amazing. Early in the show they played my favourite Crowded House song, Fall At Your Feet, and it was honestly emotional for me to finally be sitting there at the show and seeing them perform it live. And as we were all coached from the stage at the end of the song, to all sing the chorus together…it truly was an awesome moment. I was saying to Val on the way home from the show that it’s great to make new associations with certain songs after a concert like that, and now whenever I hear that song, in my mind I’ll see the purple and pink lights, and Neil Finn’s white jacket as he sang.
And man, did they ever sound great.
I know, now it sounds like I’m just gushing, but for a bunch of guys in their 50s, they sounded fantastic. And one of the things that really makes a show for me, is seeing the band really enjoy themselves on stage, and enjoy each other. That was really evident in this show, as you could see the enjoyment on their faces, making each other laugh, and having a ball. It was very genuine…I can’t really think of a better word.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the show was the sing-along aspect where they gave us parts to sing with them. And they did it in a mode of inclusion instead of what I’ve always found to be “lazy singing”. There’s a big difference between getting the crowd to sing with you, and getting the crowd to sing for you because you can’t hit the notes you used to. I’m talking to you, Sting! Yes, I loved the Police concert, but you bailed yourself out of a lot of songs by playing the “sing along card”. In this show we all sang together…and it was great.
And the interaction with the audience was great, from talking about the New Zealand soccer team being the only undefeated team at the World Cup (true!), to jokes about the G20, to responding to the two guys in the balcony who looked like the stars of Fubar, who yelled down that the All Blacks were a bad team.
Finn: “Did you say the All Blacks aren’t very good?”
Fubar guy: “No, they’re not! They suck.”
Finn: (pauses) “Wanker.”
All in all, they performed 17 songs, balancing between upbeat and mellow before kicking it up for the final 3 songs with When You Come, Locked Out, and Distant Sun. Then, they were back for a 5-song encore, which included what was a HUGE surprise for me when I heard the opening guitar for Split Enz’s I Got You, which is one of my favourite songs of all-time. I thought it was just a tease, and then I realized that they were actually going to perform it…and I couldn’t help but let out a genuine “Holy F*ck!”
In my near-30 years of going to concerts, I can honestly say that watching them perform that song is a legitimate candidate for my favourite moment of any concert I’ve ever been to. I’m not exaggerating in any way when I say that. (I found a video on YouTube - see below)
And as the show wrapped up at the 11:00 curfew that Massey Hall imposes, Finn asked the audience what time it was. When he was informed (likely by Porpoise Man) that it was 11:02, all four of them came to the front of the stage for an acoustic sing-along version of Better Be Home Soon, which was the absolute perfect way to end the show. Pure magic.
It was a great show, a great night, and I can’t wait for them to come back again.
But I’m still going to need a seat.