Plenty has happened since the last time I saw Crowded House in August 2007. Though the band hasn't toured these parts since Time On Earth, I haven't exactly suffered from a Finn drought. There was the Split Enz concert in Wellington, 2008; Neil solo and with the 7 Worlds Collide brigade at Largo in 2009. Young Liam also toured the midwest in 2009 with that other band I like. But when 2010 brought a new Crowded House album and tour, I was happy to sign on for the local concerts: Chicago and Milwaukee.
The two venues didn't have much in common. Chicago's show was at the House of Blues, with a raucous, drunk, very enthusiastic audience. In Milwaukee the band returned to the lush Pabst Theater, with a smaller, more attentive, (mostly) more sedate crowd. I had a good time at both shows, but oddly Milwaukee featured more audience banter and interaction. Mark Hart even climbed down into the crowd during the show, tasked with deciphering the request of an inebriated audience member. Mark was sidetracked by someone else, which was for the best: the man wanted Neil to play a song by himself. However, Neil was determined to find out what the guy was saying. He announced that if someone could land a paper airplane onstage with a transcription as well as their own request, he guaranteed they'd play it. What an offer! I can't fold a paper airplane, but from the third row I'm sure I could have fashioned something that would fly far enough. The only thing stopping me was a complete lack of paper. Maybe the drunk man's comment wasn't worth hearing, but I would have reported the hell out of it in exchange for "Catherine Wheels."
Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the songs that were played over the two nights. Chicago's setlist held its own with songs like "Chocolate Cake" (echoing the jokes we'd made at dinner when Sam got free birthday chocolate cake at the HoB restaurant) and the insanely fun "I Got You." (I challenge anyone to stand still during "I Got You.") A guitar-tuning jam evolved into a cover of CCR's "Born on the Bayou" with Mark on lead vocals. Neil's dad was hooked up to watch the show by video chat, via a laptop that sat onstage the whole night. At the end the crowd got the opportunity to say hello, and listen in as Nick Seymour ask the elder Mr. Finn a few questions. "Is it a nice day there in New Zealand?" "No, it's a terrible day."
Milwaukee's setlist was substantially different from Chicago's, featuring eight songs that hadn't been played on Sunday. I was pleased to hear one of my favorites from the new album, "Amsterdam," even if the song seems to cast the entire city as a bastion of immorality. The verse of "Black and White Boy" spliced into "Private Universe" was also a treat (I'm not counting that as a ninth different song), and I could sing along to classics like "Mean to Me" and "Weather With You" all night. But when Neil sat down at the keys to play "Message to My Girl," the acoustics of the Pabst really came through. Speaking of the theater, Neil seemed to find the confluence of consonants in "Pabst" entertaining. He also mentioned the Pfister Hotel. "You're probably used to it, but I find it quaint and exotic." And, once again, Wayne's World came up. I wonder if Dana Carvey and Mike Myers are aware of being the world's Milwaukee ambassadors.
After the Milwaukee show was over, I lingered outside chatting with friends. When I finally headed to my car I noticed the band had begun to emerge from the theater. Having scored a setlist earlier from the soundboard, I decided that stopping for a bit would be worth the later bedtime. At long last, I met Neil Finn. For about ten seconds. (I don't think letting him and Sharon past at the soundboard after Wilco in Wellington counted as a meeting.) The rest of the band signed my setlist too, and it was a nice ending to my two days of Crowded House. There was talk that the band might return to play a few big-market shows in the U.S. next year. I'd prefer Madison, of course, but if the Crowdies come within my Mad-Mil-Chi concert radius, I think you can count me in.
For the accurate setlist as played, look here.