Neil Finn is one of those New Zealanders we’d love to claim as our own. He recently filmed a show for Max Sessions and the program was a star-studded affair. It saw Finn preview songs from his forthcoming solo album, Dizzy Heights and dip into his enviable discography of tunes accumulated over 40 years, starting with Split Enz, then visiting aCrowded House, doffing a cap at the Finn Brothers and having a romp at Pajama Club. In short, it was exquisite.

The audience included the likes of: Marcia Hines, The Doctor (Lindsay McDougall), Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty), Peter O’Doherty, Danny Clayton and Kathy McCabe. Finn would also bring out a very special guest, Eddie Vedder to sing two songs during the encore. The show commenced with Max host, Chit Chat (Glenn Easton Dormand) saying it was a hard and daunting task to introduce Finn. He relied on a quote from fellow song smith, Paul Kelly who once said that Finn doesn’t just write songs, he casts spells, enchants and hypnotises you. And with that, Finn was left to be warlock-in-residence for the evening.

Finn was joined by a brand new, six-piece band which saw his wife Sharon on bass plus a host of young musicians on guitar, drums, keys and backing vocals. They started with “Pony Ride”, a new song which seemed to continue on with some of the experimental ideas that had been explored on the recent Pajama Club album. It was a great mix of funky, Fleetwood Mac-esque pop and dirty guitar riffs. “Flying In The Face Of Love” was also a new one and it was dedicated by Finn to the imaginations of a child and the adult who avoids some big questions. It had a broody echo and the kind of wa-wa riffs that typify Jimi Hendrix’s work.

The famous Finn banter was also a part of this show with Neil commenting on the “good art direction” (the set featured a large array of lamps suspended from the ceiling, giving it a lounge room-feel and was possibly a nod to Sharon’s other job at Sharondelier). The star also mucked around like a child, playing with his mic stand which he thought this sounded like the original sound of scratching i.e. pre-turntables. The band then started, “Fall At Your Feet”, but the pacing was too fast and Finn – ever the perfectionist – made them start it again.

The Crowded House favourite, “Distant Sun” had the audience nodding along before the sultry and nostalgic-sounding, “Impressions”. The new track, “In My Blood” came about during a jam he had had with his two musical sons, Liam and Elroy and it got him thinking about what things are passed on from one generation to the next while “Better Than TV” did just as the title said. It was a grand celebration of things that are superior to television and saw a funky drumbeat that The Cat Empire could play along with plus some big piano keys performed by Finn.

The band were given a break and it was time for a question and answer session. We learnt that Finn had cut his teeth in all sorts of clubs in Te Awamutu, including an early mental hospital and a prison for young offenders. He described being dragged – along with his brother, Tim – to perform at family functions by his uncle George, singing songs like “Jamaican Farewell” and “Shake Hands With A Billionaire”. He said, “The Beatles had Hamburg. We had parties”. He also mentioned learning about new technology like Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro to help make new music and videos.

“Message To My Girl” followed and Finn played this alone and on the piano. It was brilliant, so stripped back and sweet that it added meaning to what was already such a sublime and emotional song. Finn asked for requests and thought about playing “Last Day In June” but the crowd had to settle on the Crowded House song, “She Goes On”. The request for the band’s “Instinct” – which this writer would’ve paid to see – also fell on deaf ears, unfortunately.

One song that was an unexpected inclusion was the Pajama Club track, “From A Friend To A Friend”. It saw Sharon singing along with Neil to a distorted pop song that has only been played five times but has apparently been reincarnated in seven different ways. It was upbeat, as was “Locked Out” which allowed people to dance – well, as much as they could from their seats – and the Enz hit, “I Got You” also received a rapturous response.

But the biggest applause for the evening was in the encore when Finn surprised us all with none other than Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. We’d learn that Vedder was a drop-out because of the lure of music – including the Split Enz albums Time & Tide and Waiata (released in Australia as Corroboree). They were all too persuasive so he never graduated. The pair played two acoustic guitars for a cover of Hunters & Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me” before Vedder decided to dance along to the pop of “History Never Repeats”. Finn looked especially chuffed during this but the latter performance saw Vedder fluff a lyric and there were some issues with Sharon’s bass, so the group replayed it in full once again and the second time around it was really explosive. The band (sans Vedder) than brought the show home with “Weather With You”, a big song that was clapping skyscrapers of fun.

Neil Finn’s Max Session had been an excellent exercise in singing, dancing and contemplation as he’d whisked us along through space and time to touch on various elements from his catalogue. It had been a joyous and awesome surprise to see Vedder and Finn together, even though they’re no strangers to collaborating. But it was a nice touch and the cream on top of a wonderfully delicious show. Finn sounds as revitalised and creative as ever with strong, new material that will hypnotise you and take you on that magic carpet ride that started some forty years ago.

Neil Finn’s Max Sessions set list:
1. Pony Ride
2. Flying In The Face Of Love
3. Fall At Your Feet (originally performed by Crowded House)
4. Distant Sun (originally performed by Crowded House)
5. Impressions
6. In My Blood
7. Better Than TV
8. Message To My Girl (originally performed by Split Enz)
9. Faster Than Light
10. She Goes On (originally performed by Crowded House)
11. One Step Ahead (originally performed by Split Enz)
12. Dizzy Heights
13. From A Friend To A Friend (originally performed by Pajama Club)
14. Anytime
15. Strangest Friends
16. Locked Out (originally performed by Crowded House)
17. I Got You (originally performed by Split Enz)
18. Throw Your Arms Around Me (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors)
19. History Never Repeats (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors)
20. History Never Repeats (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors) (played in full a second time)
21. Weather With You (originally performed by Crowded House)

Neil Finn’s Max Session will be aired Monday 24th March at 9pm on MAX.


Originally published on 31 January 2014 at the following website:

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