More than memories
George Harrison liked to say that “if you’re going to be in a band, it may as well be the Beatles.”
That said, who can fault singer-songwriter Neil Finn for similarly concluding, upon realizing that he missed playing in a band, that there was none he’d rather be in than Crowded House?
Both musicians were dispassionately assessing their roles in groups that created significant bodies of work despite relatively short life spans -- the key distinction being the difference in the heights each reached before they dissolved.
Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and new drummer Matt Sherrod celebrated the New Zealand pop-rock band’s musical legacy with an emotion-drenched performance Tuesday at the Greek Theatre that was all about making music in the moment rather than rote nostalgia. It underscored the idea -- which no doubt was a big part of Finn’s decision to resuscitate the group -- of just how much more fun it is to be part of a living, breathing band than to be a cog in a musical jukebox.
Yes, they trotted out most of the group’s biggest hits, from its birth in the mid-'80s through the four studio albums they made before calling it quits about a decade later. But vintage songs were often rendered with new arrangements and stretched-out improvisations, while the presence of a handful of songs from the heartache-laced new album “Time on Earth” also made it evident that Finn and his mates have more than pop music memories on their minds.
Some of that new material responds, directly and obliquely, to the 2005 suicide of Crowded House’s original drummer, Paul Hester, although that went unmentioned Tuesday. Presumably Finn and Seymour have had plenty of opportunities to discuss it since the reunion it sparked was announced earlier this year.
What did come across was the melancholy such a loss can engender, a feeling that permeates “Time on Earth,” though the songs are never subsumed by grief. As Finn sang in “Don’t Stop Now,” one of the new songs, the challenge in a life with no guarantees is to experience the bad with the good, and be able to feel both fully:
Can’t tell what is right in front of us
But I hang on every word. . . .
Give me something I can write about
Give me something I can cry about
The stage backdrop reflected the Crowded House musical signature: strips of newspaper or magazine articles crisscrossed one another, allowing onlookers to glean only bits and pieces of each story.
Likewise, the group’s exquisitely crafted songs are infinitely rich with melodic and harmonic invention but lyrically enigmatic enough to require fans to be active participants and fill in the missing puzzle pieces to reach their own conclusions.
That gives the songs, mostly written by Finn, a deliciously long shelf life. And if you’re going to be in a band, it might as well be one that’s worth keeping around.