"THE ALBERT Hall, eh? You English really know how to do old stuff." As he gazed up into the gods while turning his head through 180 degrees, you could tell this really meant something to Neil Finn. With half the Antipodean populace of Earl's Court in attendance, and a PA mix that allowed his Rolls-Royce of a voice to soar unfettered, the former Crowded House kingpin could hardly fail. As he gently held court with his audience, sometimes taking his feed-lines from bassist Robert Moore, you noticed that his between-song banter was as vaudevillean as his tunes are Beatles- esque. His insouciance relaxes you, then he stings you with a killer hook or a perspicacious lyric.
In recent interviews, the singer has explained that he has been trying to strike a better balance between his personal life and his career. Thus, his debut solo album, Try Whistling This (the title wryly alludes to the record's less warble-friendly content), was recorded in the basement of his family home in Auckland, and features his 15-year-old son Liam playing drums. It was logical then - if surprising, bearing in mind his age - to see Liam on stage as part of his father's new five-piece band. Any charges of nepotism were swiftly dismissed, however, as the boy segued between guitar, drums and keyboards.
The lengthy set was well placed and well balanced, containing enough new material to keep things fresh for Finn, and enough Crowded House and Split Enz oldies to create a sing-along-a-Neil atmosphere, even in the boxes.
Of the new material, "Sinner", based on a Thirties-sounding jazz sample supplied by Bjork's former collaborator Marius De Vries, and "Last One Standing", which was introduced as "a New Zealand drinking song", stood out.
Finn's solo renditions of "Fall at Your Feet" and "Don't Dream It's Over" provided the evening's inevitable shift into melodic turbo-drive. These truly great pop songs have become part of the modern canon, and not even the bathos of the crowd straining en masse for the falsetto notes in the latter's chorus could rob the tune of its magic.
There was a lovely momentum during "She Will Have Her Way", when Liam stepped up to the mike to harmonise with his father in the best Finn family tradition. The most telling piece of father/son interaction, though, came during the old Crowded House song, "Fingers of Love". Liam had just launched into the number's lead-guitar solo when his amplifier appeared to cut out. Primed for just such moments through his many years of experience, Finn senior smiled acknowledgement and scattered some vocals to fill the gap. Thanks, Dad.