By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Crowded House called it quits in 1996 after four albums and several modest hits. Granted, most of those hits were on the front end ("Don't Dream It's Over" in 1987, "Better Be Home Soon" the following year), and the band fared better in Europe and its native lands down under. But singer and songwriter Neil Finn's McCartneyesque melodies have survived as a credible, inspiring body of work.
Rumors and requests of a reunion persisted, but in 2005 founding drummer Paul Hester killed himself. The reunion, however — of Finn and bassist Nick Seymour, adding Mark Hart and a new drummer, Matt Sherrod — eventually happened in spite of this tragedy, possibly because of it.
Crowded House Mach II has been a more complex affair, thus far delivering two albums ("Time on Earth" in 2007, this summer's "Intriguer") of densely arranged tunes with wilder undercurrents. We caught up with Neil Finn this week to hear how the new venture is holding together.
Q. How's this tour going?
A. We're in really good shape as a band. It's a very generic answer, but it's true. We've clocked a lot of miles, and our instincts are serving us very well. We're jamming more.
Q. Beg pardon? I certainly don't think of Crowded House as a jam band.
A. Well, as much as our spirit of adventure will allow us. It's not always going to be particularly appealing for the audience to hear us go off together, but we're striking a balance. But I do love the way some songs can be, to some extent, redefined. When I say jamming, I mean throwing a few new angles on the tracks. There are quite a few points in the set where we depart from the script.
Q. Like where?
A. "Private Universe," "Hole in the River" — these have allowed themselves to become quite sprawling, quite intense. Generally speaking, most audiences have seemed quite thrilled with them.
Q. Is there something about the new lineup that lends itself to this happening?
A. We always had that inclination in the old band, though we were regarded as this tight pop band. I think we always had a sense of openness on stage, though. ... We began our career in the first incarnation by busking, the three of us, on streets, in houses, restaurants. So early on there was a freedom, a willingness to get the audience involved and go where you wanted to go. Our drummer at the time [Hester] had a mad sense of abandon and humor, and that became a part of our show. We don't have his presence anymore, but our approach to performing is still looking for those moments that jump off.
Q. You ended the band saying you needed some creative space. Did you find it?
A. Absolutely. I felt hemmed in by Crowded House at the time. I went and made two solo albums, another two with my brother [Tim Finn]. In the course of that I got to play with some amazing people. It was good for the natural restlessness of creativity.
Q. The solo songs called out to be outside the band?
A. It's hard to talk about, but yeah. I suppose I could have done this with the band, or I could've kept the name and done the same thing with other people. But I attached myself to the idea that the band is a fairly involved, encompassing thing and you had to be in it completely; you couldn't come and go.
Q. I remember Rhett Miller speaking about his first solo album away from the Old 97s. People were always asking him, "These sound like Old 97s songs. Why couldn't you just do them with the band?"
A. Right, he toured with me once; I remember that same conversation. He could have; I could have. Sometimes you just have to feel around outside your comforts.
Q. Was re-forming the band inevitable after Paul died?
A. It was part of the sequence of events, no doubt. I was seeing Nick quite a bit in the aftermath of that awful thing. We reconnected and found ourselves playing music, as we do. I was working on what was to be a solo album at the time, but he started to be a part of that process. By the end, we were reconciled to some new spirit of the band. ... It put a good history to our story, so that it wouldn't end in that dark place.
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These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.