Neil Finn demonstrated why he is regarded as the songwriters’ songwriter when delivering a masterly performance at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on Thursday night.
The tremendously talented 55-year-old New Zealander, of Split Enz and Crowded House fame, was in his element, bewitching the audience both with his musicianship and sense of humour.
From the moment the tousle-haired Finn stepped on to stage to belt out an effervescent version of the 1981 Split Enz classic History Never Repeats, the faithful knew they were in for a special night.
“Have you got the groove tonight Dubai,” Finn cried out before bursting into the quirky Weather With You from Crowded House’s defining 1991 album Woodface, a song that showcased a flawless melody and outstanding harmonies from Finn, back-up singer Lisa Tomlins and guitarist Jesse Sheehan.
With the benchmark having been set, Finn dived headlong into Flying In The Face of Love, a robust pop song from his new solo album Dizzy Heights, which saw the artist skilfully extend his musical persona to lead guitarist as he executed an intricate and feisty guitar solo.
“What a night, what a beautiful night,” he reaffirmed.
It was. A gentle breeze was blowing under a clear night sky, making it a perfect setting for the well-attended open air gig.
While Finn exhibited his willingness to explore the medium between folk-rock and the melodic arm of psychedelic perpetuated on Dizzy Heights, it was the prolific retrospective from his halcyon days with Split Enz and Crowded House that really helped expanded the possibilities on the night.
Finn’s songs are renowned for their catchy choruses and when he launched into Something So Strong from Crowded House’s eponymous debut album of 1987, hundreds of smartphones were being held high in the darkness recording every joyous twist and turn that the song afforded.
She Will Have Her and Something So Strong made way for Finn’s adaptations of some of Crowded House’s biggest hits including Four Seasons in One Day, It’s Only Natural and Don’t Dream It’s Over, majestic ballads that became major radio staples in the late eighties and also saw the band sell over 20 million albums.
Interspersed between these gems was the finely crafted sarcasm of Better Than TV, a song that relied more on groove than the sublime harmonising normally associated with Finn’s music.
The audience gushed as Finn casually chatted with them and introduced his band, which also comprised his wife of 29 years Sharon on bass guitar, Alistair Deverick on drums and American Andrew Everding on keyboards and acoustic guitar. Every aspect of his performance was captivating, even the introductions.
Finn’s energy and passion for performing live seemed boundless and awe-inspiring. Over the course of the 100-minute concert, he revealed himself as an ordinary guy, stripped of fame and facades, a non-showbiz like personality.
And when he and his band left the stage only to return moments later to deliver a lush sounding version of the exquisite Fall at Your Feet, a priceless piece of balladry that he co-wrote with his brother Tim, the anticipated encore was nothing short of boisterous.
Even when chained down at the grand piano to perform Chocolate Cake, the witty opening track from Woodface, Finn’s elan was endless and proved that he is getting better with age.
Better Be Home Soon was a tailormade culmination to an immeasurable great concert that lived up to the hype and delivered on every enduring song.