Crowded House, Upbeat and Unpredictable

Crowded House, from left: Mark Hart, Neil Finn, Matt Sherrod and Nick Seymour.
Crowded House, from left: Mark Hart, Neil Finn, Matt Sherrod and Nick Seymour. (By Jim Cooper -- Associated Press)
Monday, May 5, 2008

Crowded House lived up to its name literally on Friday night, as a wall-to-wall throng packed the 9:30 club to see the headlining group. And for good reason. Having reconvened last year after splitting up at the peak of its powers in 1996, it's got everything you could want in a band: an embarrassment of superb material, a charismatic frontman, a set list that's rewritten nightly, a tolerance for -- nay, encouragement of -- spontaneity and, most important, that palpable love of performing that can't be faked.

Led by underrated singer-guitarist Neil Finn -- who's revered as a songwriter of Lennonesque lyrical gifts and McCartneyesque melodic talent -- Crowded House has overcome every obstacle with grace: from the devastating (the 2005 suicide of drummer Paul Hester) to the merely annoying (the impudence of some of their own alleged fans, who welcomed the band to its first D.C. gig in more than a decade by yapping throughout the 130-minute concert). Fortunately, the reverent outnumbered the rude: "You're in very fine voice tonight, Washington," Finn gushed, deputizing 1,200 backup singers to fill out the soaring "World Where You Live."

The 23-song set was characteristically generous and unpredictable. Five new tunes ("Isolation" and "Twice if You're Lucky" were introduced by name) suggested a more upbeat direction after last year's "Time on Earth" album. Largely inspired by Hester's death, it was ignored save for "English Trees," a number every bit as exciting as it sounds. They apparently can't all be Finn-tastic.

The lengthy second encore brought an improvised composition, and a rarity ("Mansion in the Slums") that Finn declared they hadn't played in "at least 20 years." But naturally, the emphasis was on the group's brilliant 1986-96 back catalogue. "Locked Out" rocked out and "Don't Dream It's Over" had everyone clutching their better half a little tighter. And for the buoyant "Weather With You," Finn divided the audience and got it to sing two-part harmony. Leave it to this ever-affable Kiwi to bring order to a roomful of surly Yanks.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2008 The Washington Post Company