Liam Finn, Cargo, London

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The Independent Culture

There are times, as when this shaggy caveman flails at his drum kit, that you wonder if he really is the son of the perennially fresh-faced Neil Finn; but these are immediately followed by graceful ballads where the second generation of New Zealand rock aristocracy could be channelling the Crowded House frontman.

Liam Finn displays a precocious talent as he covers both bases with easy charm and aplomb, apart from the odd lost mike stand as he clumsily moves between drums and guitar. Yet the two sides never quite gel, leaving him caught between honouring his father and trashing Neil's legacy. To that end, Finn's publicists regularly highlight the tale about their client, then aged 16, playing for a bunch of bikers who were so impressed they made him play all night. The unkempt hair and beard could also highlight stylistic as well as generational differences.

Ostensibly a solo singer-songwriter, 24-year-old Finn looks askance at the mannered stance of today's sensitive troubadours. Instead, he combines the roles of drummer, singer and guitarist in compelling fashion. There are touches of heavy blues rock as he layers treated riffs, playing a searing cascade of notes over a rumbling bass line. Then in a disorientating change of perspective, he turns lead guitar into backing, as he gets behind his kit and transforms himself into a pocket Keith Moon. In this guise, he is fitfully supported by collaborator Eliza-Jane Barnes, herself the daughter of Aussie singer Jimmy, one of those home-grown stars who failed to make it as an export.

Another multi-instrumentalist, she adds autoharp and percussion that occasionally meshes with Finn's own efforts. Best is their repartee, as when the latter says he found Barnes in an Amsterdam window to guffaws from a largely Kiwi crowd. "They offered me free weed," she deadpans back. Their joint highlight is the space rock finale to "Lead Balloon" from Finn's debut album I'll Be Lightning, when both play mean theremin solos in an electrifying frenzy that leaves them both on the floor. Otherwise, its rough arrangement and basic structure suggests About A Boy-era Badly Drawn Boy, not that artist's most memorable period. And there is the rub for Finn, who has energy and a variety of neat musical tricks, though usually fails to match them with emotional rawness.

This is most apparent on quieter numbers, where Finn strips away the layers and reveals a quavering vocal similar to that of his father. There is also a shared interest in The Beatles' pastoral side, evinced on the intimate, regretful "Fire In Your Belly". At this point, the singer reveals he is pleased to be playing an area of London where he lived for a while and wrote many of these songs, context that helps give a sense of a writer caught between rolling stone romanticism and the lonesome traveller missing home and loved ones. He struggles, though, to progress beyond the most plodding platitudes. "I'll be gone by morning time," he repeatedly tells an unfortunate woman in "Better To Be" who ought to have kicked him out long before the song's end.

Yet the expat crowd remain vocal enough in their support to suggest they empathise, though are generally more positive about Finn's solos and Barnes's earthy humour.

Energised by such a response, the pair eventually build up a belated, sustained intensity on their encore. He finally finds some urgency on the aching "This Place Is Killing Me" and shows some thoughtfulness on "Wide Awake on the Voyage Home", where he seeks love in "a town full of people who always drive drunk". Most telling, though, is a cover of Neil Young's "Old Man", possibly unintentionally amusing when Finn sings, "Look at my life, I'm a lot like you." It suggests a comparison with another artist who veers between gentle lyricism and rocking out, though this jack of all trades has a way to go before he masters them.

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