Paul Kelly and Neil Finn
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sunday, 10th March 2013, with Dan Kelly (guitar), Elroy Finn (drums, acoustic guitar), Zoe Hauptmann (bass, bass guitar).
Support: Lisa Mitchell
They kept us up late on a school night. We couldn't have cared less.
For two and a half hours, Paul Kelly and Neil Finn - Australia and New Zealand's finest songwriters, respectively - held a packed Concert Hall audience spellbound. It was the first of five nights at the iconic venue, and nearing the end of an acclaimed tour which has taken in concert halls, wineries and a concert-in-the-park in Kelly's home town of Adelaide.
For more than 30 years Paul Kelly and Neil Finn have been fixtures in the lives of their baby boomer/gen X audience, since their fans were at school and university, working their first jobs, before they had kids. And here was Kelly on stage with his nephew, Dan, and Finn with his son, Elroy. (Bass ace for hire, Zoe Hauptmann, completed the lineup.)
Kelly's music is rootsy, tending to country; Finn's is classic pop. Kelly has the rare distinction of having his lyrics published in book form. Finn is also a very fine lyricist, but the hallmarks are gorgeous melodies and harmonies.
They have long been mainstream and critical favorites, with the usual ups and downs. (Think Bruce Springsteen’s career arc.) They now share revered elder statesmen status – both the subject of multiple tribute albums - and the timing of this tour concept was ideal.
Close in age, at 58 and 54 respectively, they share an Irish Catholic background, Kelly growing up in South Australia, and Finn at Te Awamutu in New Zealand's far north.
The evening began with the Kelly and Finn entering from opposite sides of a dark stage, carrying lanterns, to the sound of crickets, and symbolically shaking hands in center-stage. This signaled a relaxed sing-along and that's pretty much what we got. It was seemingly casual, but well planned and well-rehearsed.
The set began with Kelly's country waltz, Don't Stand So Close to the Window, just the two of them strumming acoustic guitars, swapping verses and singing harmony on the chorus. Before the applause faded they launched into Crowded House's Four Seasons in One Day, the other members of the band coming on stage and casually joining in. We were off to the races.
In terms of song choice, it was pretty much perfect; the best of Kelly's purple patch of the 80s, the cream 0f Crowded House's hook-laden ballads, some Split Enz classics, and enough newer and less familiar material to keep things interesting. Each sang a song of the other, Kelly choosing Into Temptation and Finn going with You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed.
To an extent, the music occupied a middle ground between styles. It's hard to imagine, for example, Kelly singing quirky Crowded House songs like Chocolate Cake or Pineapple Head. Still, there were challenges to be met. Kelly said he had to learn "songs with more than four chords", joking that he would wake in a cold sweat over the suspended second that begins Don't Dream It's Over.
The only blemish on a memorable night was the sound. Unusually, the mix was perfect early on (from our seats, six rows back) and deteriorated later in the set. When the band rocked out, the kick drum and bass got loud and muddy, masking the vocals a little. I suspect it was simply a case of too much volume for the finicky room.
The evening ended with Buddy Holly’s Words of Love, a paean to early influences, perhaps, and a neat way to avoid the appearance of one-upmanship. It was, indeed, a meeting of equals, and a joyous celebration.
Link to live stream from the Sydney Opera House - 9pm, Monday, 18th March 2013 (Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time)