Finn Brothers at 9:30
At the 9:30 club on Wednesday, the Finn Brothers -- Neil (the younger sibling and mainstay of the band Crowded House) and Tim (frontman of Split Enz) -- delivered bouncy pop tunes to a very, ahem, crowded house. Many in the audience weren't afraid to admit that they had been following the brothers since the 1970s, identifying the venues the brothers used to play and cheering in recognition of their older hits, such as Crowded House's "Weather With You."
But this show was far from a nostalgia trip: The Finns' new songs, which made up nearly half the set, were as well received as the old standbys.
As with another set of musical brothers -- the Everlys -- the Finns' harmonies were the central focus of their songs: Their voices gained confidence and warmth together, where each alone seemed bare. They alternated lead vocals, sometimes within the same song, with one brother singing the verses and the other taking over the choruses. The Finns stretched each song like taffy, topping many tunes off with an instrumental interlude that often found the two brothers at center stage attacking their guitars as if playing only for each other.
Most of all, the two just had fun, for example in Split Enz's speedy "I See Red" when Tim leapt from behind the piano to dance about the stage, or he took on a whistle solo in the middle of "Six Months in a Leaky Boat." At the conclusion of "All of the Colors," a song penned for their late mother, Tim mumbled, "Sorry, Mom, I blew the ending," but it was clear from the audience's enthusiastic reaction that no apology was necessary.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
At Rams Head
There's nothing about the gruff exterior of Greg Brown that hints at the humor, tenderness and unerring sensitivity of his songs. At the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Wednesday night he took to the stage looking like a grumpy middle-aged guy who had just wandered off a construction site. Baseball cap, sunglasses and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off are not the fashion choices of most poets.
But looks, as they say, are deceiving. Funny and personable, Brown is a lovely writer with a purring buzz saw of a voice. He kept the crowd at the sold-out club under his spell with his own compositions and some well-chosen covers. "Here's a little geopolitical number," he joked, introducing "China," a song not about geopolitics at all but about a relationship in dire need of diplomacy. "I'm trying to talk to my baby, but I might as well be in China," he growled. Brown was joined by Bo Ramsey, one of that rare breed of light-fingered guitarists who can express more in a single, subtle note than most players can in a three-minute solo. He was an ideal counterpart for Brown as they wended thoughtfully through country blues, Southern gospel and old-timey folk tunes.
Brown's somber protest song, "I Want My Country Back," and other sorrowful fare like "One Wrong Turn" were balanced by wonderful bits of loopiness including "InaBell Sale," which takes speaking ill of the dead to new lows: "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Lord, for taking InaBell! I bet she was hard to lift, even for Thee." More standouts included inspired takes on Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move," and "These Hills," by Brown's wife, Iris Dement.
Besides contributing harmonies during her father's encore, Pieta Brown, a fine singer-songwriter in her own right, played a brief opening set. Melancholy is her favorite key and the only one she needed for wistful songs such as "Out in a Field" and "Nobody's Rose."
-- Joe Heim