Friday, 6 February 2015

Underrated Live Albums #1: Crowded House - "Farewell to the World"

On November 24th 1996, a very special event happened on the steps of the Sydney Opera house. Crowded House played their first show in almost 12 months. It was also to be their last show. Forever.

It was also the one show that I attended that I actually did not get to witness. But that is a story for another time...

Crowded House was started by Neil Finn after his previous band, Split Enz, imploded in the wake of their leader Tim Finn leaving the band. Neil, a New Zealand born musician, carried on the Enz for a while before limping to its final conclusion in 1985. Neil then recruited two Melbourne based musicians Nick (brother of Hunters and Collectors vocalist Mark) Seymour on bass and drummer Paul Hester and moved to LA to score a record deal. Starting with the band's stellar 1986 debut, the band released four consistently great albums that all sold well in Australia but sold in ever decreasing quantities in the US. Sales started slow in the UK and Europe but they ended up being one of the most cherished pop bands of the 90s there.

The band were known for their alternately upbeat and moody, introspective music and zany humour on stage. However, the wheels started to fall off the band in 1994 when Paul Hester left the band, citing homesickness (we now know he was battling severe depression at the time, a battle which fatally ended by his own hand in 2005, sadly). The band finished the tour without him and the tried to record a new album, but for some reason the project was aborted after only a handful of tracks were finished.

The band announced they were splitting in May 1996 and then set aside the date of Saturday November 23, 1996 to play a very special final shown on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. It was to be a free concert with donations taken from the crowd to support the Royal Cord Blood Bank at the Sydney Children's Hospital. However on the day of the event, it rained and the event was postponed until the next day. (The band still played for the few thousand people that flew in for the event from around the country and even from overseas that couldn't stay for the postponed show).

Sunday the 24th was a glorious sunny day and Circular Quay was abuzz with energy, far more than it normally was. The opening band that went on stage around 4pm was Brisbane favourites Powderfinger. Followed by fellow Brisbanites Custard, then local heroes You Am I, and then around 7:30pm, the band themselves played what was probably the greatest show of their careers.

Crowded House treated the crowd on that balmy evening to a broad selection of their back catalog, and held the audience in the palm of their hand from go to woe, The DVD and the album cut the between song banter to a minimum, but the chemistry between crowd and band crackles with energy. The crowd's physical acrobatics early on cause Neil to give a safety warning to the otherwise well behaved crowd. He responds to the crowd's chants for some water mid-song. (In "Into Temptation", he changes the opening lyric to "You've opened up your door, I think they need some water...").

The band are clearly having fun on this stage, and during the five song encore, Neil is clearly moved. He doesn't want to leave that stage. During the final song "Don't Dream It's Over", it's pretty clear he doesn't want it to end. He deliberately draws out the ending and there are visible tears from both the audience and the band when it finally ends and they take their bows.

This is a live album that is a document of a special concert that will not be repeated. It was a once in a lifetime show witnessed by over 120,000 people (although some estimates say that the crowd stretching around the Quay towards The Rocks was more like 300,000). Sure the band have reformed and will probably farewell the world again at some stage, but this was a truly special event. This was the event where a lot of people around the world who'd became disinterested in the band's declining fortunes after the "Together Alone" LP, realised just how special a band they were ceasing to be. This writer included. This made it all the more bittersweet.

The CD release does the right thing and includes every song they played that night. Anything else would have ruined the experience. This album wasn't issued shortly after the show. It was only issued on the 10th anniversary of the gig in 2006. Either way, it is a spectacular document of a special night. It is a live album that deserves to be in the Parthenon of great live albums.

Take a listen this most beautiful live album below. Enjoy

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