Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Sydney Opera House

Neil-Finn-Paul-Kelly-2013-Sydney-Opera-House-Australian-music-concert-gigBLIMEY. Pushed out the boat a bit for this one, didn’t we? This blog’s just under a year old  yet I’m already snapping up expenses-paid trips to New South Wales?

Well, not quite. Besides, any writewyattuk profits go straight to hosts WordPress at this point in time. But ain’t technology marvellous, kids? For this week I got to see a live streaming of New Zealand singer-songwriter Neil Finn and his esteemed Aussie buddy Paul Kelly’s end of tour stage party, beamed in from Sydney via YouTube.

Sometimes, I have trouble with websites set up barely a few miles from here, and often struggle to receive mobile phone text messages from my better half asking to put the kettle on when she leaves work. But there on Monday was a hitch-free two-and-a-half hour transmission from half-way around the world, with barely a handful of technical glitches throughout, most involving brief frozen images.

What a show too, Finn returning to Sydney Cove 16 years after Crowded House’s momentous Farewell to the World show outside the Opera House, this time with Adelaide’s finest musical export for company.


Last Time: Crowded House famously played Sydney Opera House in ’96

While Kelly’s own output is little known outside his native Australia, Finn’s appeal has secured a huge fan-base around the world, from his younger days in brother Tim’s Split Enz through to his admirable international solo output in recent years. And there was a great taste of that material throughout this set, alongside a few classics in their own right from Kelly, many new to us on this side of the world.

Even the opening was memorable, these celebrated songsmiths entering from opposite wings carrying lanterns, breaking the pitch-dark, arriving at stage front to shake hands before an acoustic guitar and vocal duet on Kelly’s Don’t Stand So Close To The Window, followed by Finn’s Woodface classic Four Seasons in One Day, joined part-way through by their band-mates – Zoe Hauptmann on bass, Paul’s nephew Dan Kelly on guitar, and Neil’s son Elroy on drums.

That format became the key, Finn and Kelly trading compositions, their own individual touches skewing ownership, or ‘morphing’ as they put it, Paul often singing Neil’s parts and vice versa – as was the case on Before Too Long, dating from Kelly’s mid-’80s days, when he had hair and Coloured Girls for company.

Past Passion: Paul Kelly, when he still had hair

Past Passion: Paul Kelly, when he still had hair

Finn’s commercially under-valued She Will Have Her Way followed, from 1998’s Try Whistling This, giving his all on his russet red electric guitar, the hits and near-misses continuing as Kelly gave us his ‘parlour song’ For The Ages – with Zoe on double bass while Elroy took to his brushes – then we were treated to a more country waltz take on Beatle-esque final Crowded House Mk.I single Not The Girl You Think You Are.

It was only 10.30 in the morning in Northern England at that point and I really should have been  working, but how could I turn away? Remember the episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler chance upon free porn and are scared to turn off the TV in case they lose it? Well, this was the musical alternative, and I was here for the long haul.

Finn’s Sinner, again from 1998, was next, Kelly adding the kooky synth loop, then telling us, ‘it’s good to have Neil Finn in your band, because he can sing all the high bits’, before using that Finn falsetto to good effect on his Dylan-esque Careless.

finn everyone

Brotherly Love: Tim & Neil’s superb Everyone Is Here

Then it was the Finn Brothers’ Won’t Give In, (sort of) title track of the luscious Everyone is Here, the duo still trading verses, as they did on another Tim and Neil song, Only Talking Sense, from their first brothers-only release in 1995, Dan cranking up his electric and Elroy in full flow at his kit for the climax.

While Finn spoke of writing songs with his bro, Kelly boasted co-writing duties with early 17th-century poet John Donne on New Found Year, then re-arranged Finn’s Crowded House number Into Temptation from 1988’s Temple of Low Men, enhancing an already haunting song.

Finn reciprocated with a re-telling of Kelly’s You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed in tribute to his Irish-born mum and All Blacks rugby legend Tana Umaga, pensive piano complementing the songwriter’s wistful harmonica, before Kelly’s folky They Thought I Was Asleep then a mournful acoustic take on Crowded House’s Private Universe and a brooding version of Split Enz’s Squeeze-like One Step Ahead, penned by a 22-year-old Finn back in 1980.

Finn & KellyK_EVENT_700x394_The songs kept coming between the banter, the band stepping up the pace with Kelly’s Dumb Things – Finn adding boogie-woogie piano – then Dan Kelly taking a Neil Young approach to his uncle’s Springsteen-like Deeper Water, both front-men swapping lead vocals.

You always expect a few Finn standards from these collaborative shows, and soon the Opera House guests were treated to Crowded House lump-in-the-throat crowd-pleaser Better Be Home Soon. And while Kelly has had fewer hits, there was mass appreciation for his cherished How To Make Gravy story song too, bringing memories of late, great Go-Between Grant McLennan to mind for me.

Back Catalogue: Paul Kelly's fame Down Under is largely yet to cross over

Back Catalogue: Paul Kelly’s fame Down Under is largely yet to cross over

Finn had more in his armoury of course, the wondrous Distant Sun up next from 1993’s Together Alone, Kelly’s spoken verse adding a fresh dimension and the ‘seven worlds will collide whenever I am by your side’ line particularly apt on such a night, as the rest of the globe tuned in via the internet. There’s progress for you.

Time marched on and the encores arrived, but neither front-man looked like they wanted to leave. Kelly sporting his natty fedora again when they returned for My Winter Coat, protection for his bald pate as artificial snow fell on him and into Finn’s red wine, while Dan added Duane Eddy guitar to his uncle’s Leonard Cohen-like vocal.

There was a spirit of droll mischief from Kelly as he asked, “Got another hit for us, Neil?” to which the son of Te Awamutu replied, “Yeah, it’s about time I wrote another one, isn’t it?” in something that sounded like it was lifted straight from cult TV comedy Flight of the Conchords.

That particular hit was Fall At Your Feet, another sublime Woodface classic, before Kelly’s Dylan and The Band-style To Her Door, complete with Finn’s ‘rollicking piano’. And the chat went on between songs, the latter mentioning how Finn only had to learn five chords for their combined set, while he had to learn around 50, the last of those the quickly-recognised intro to Don’t Dream It’s Over (somehow now 27 years old), Finn on keyboards as the rest of the band, the Opera House guests and 18,000 web-watchers back home added backing vocals.

Early Days: New Zealand's finest, way back then

Early Days: New Zealand’s finest, way back then

They returned again, Zoe’s reverberating bass leading us into Kelly’s almost-anthemic and certainly inspirational Love Is the Law followed by more mellow but no less powerful Split Enz hit Message to My Girl, penned by a 26-year-old Finn nearly 30 years before, and delivered as ever with real emotion.

They still weren’t done, the twin headliners giving us a twist on the winning Everly Brothers formula with their band on Buddy Holly’s gorgeous Words of Love, Zoe’s double bass adding to it all.

Then came a gorgeous finale, just Neil and Paul left for Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s five-decade old Moon River, the harmonies perfect, Kelly again adding plaintive harmonica, the ‘two drifters off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see’ line poignant to say the least.

And just as they’d arrived, so they departed, this treasured pair picking up their lanterns and exiting in different directions, after a truly amazing 155-minute diversion from all life’s toils, all over this connected world.

Since finishing this review, I’ve chanced upon the full concert again courtesy of the SOHfestival on YouTube, with a link here if it’s still posted. 

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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1 Response to Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Sydney Opera House

  1. Pingback: Flying above the clouds with Neil Finn | writewyattuk

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