About two summers ago, I found myself in a place where if you’d have told me a year before that I’d be there, I’d have laughed in your face. Where was this place? At a Crowded House concert being held at a masonic temple in New York City. My disbelief wouldn’t have resulted from the location of the event, and it certainly wouldn’t have been because I dislike Crowded House. Quite the contrary, the New Zealand-based band has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager., and their music has become more meaningful to me over the 20 or so years since. However, when the band split in the mid Nineties, the breakup had an air of permanence that I thought was never going to be breached. The exclamation point seemed to jump onto the end of Crowded House’s sentence when drummer Paul Hester committed suicide a couple years back. However, Neil Finn and company hit the road in support of 2007’s comeback effort “Time on Earth”, dedicating the tour to Hester’s memory, and that’s how I found myself in a corner of this temple, listening to the audience sing back the indelible chorus of 1986’s “Don’t Dream it’s Over” with tears streaming down my face. It was one of those transcendent musical moments that can’t be done justice with mere words.
The music that Crowded House madeÂ lends itself to those types of emotions very well. Their songs straddle that very thin line between happy and sad. Melancholy yet uplifting songs like “Better Be Home Soon”, “Distant Sun” and “Weather with You” should be standards-it speaks very strongly to the complete lack of taste most Americans have in music that they aren’t. Of all the songwriters and singers in the world who have had the tag “Beatle-esque” used in reference to them, Finn and Crowded House came the closest of any band to earning it. Finn and his brother Tim preceded (and foreshadowed) Crowded House’s excellent work as members of Split Enz and have continued together (they’ve recorded as a duo and Tim even joined Crowded House for a short time), separately and even via offspring-Neil’s son Liam released an excellent album, “I’ll Be Lightning”, last year.
Maybe the best description of Crowded House’s music and its’ emotional impact comes from the liner notes of their anthology, “Recurring Dream”. Peter Paphides writes: “British humourist Spike Milligan once recalled how he was in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Alone in bed and crying uncontrollably, he noticed his baby daughter walking towards his bed, arms outstretched. In her hand was a glass of water. She wanted to give something. Something to make it alright. This was all she could find. A while ago, someone asked me to sum up the music of Crowded House. For some reason, I responded with that tale-perhaps because it was simultaneously the saddest and most uplifting thing I’ve heard”.
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