On several occasions during this rare Gotham gig, Tim Finn reached into the piano perched on the stage of Joe’s Pub and plucked the strings inside — an act that he echoed, albeit in more subtle fashion, by consistently digging beneath the surface of what might seem to be simply quirky pop songs in order to unearth surprisingly jagged and twisted psychic nuggets.
Hopscotching across his three decades’ worth of material — and going far afield enough to work up a spare, touching take on Wilco’s “The Lonely One” — Finn managed to balance the stormy and the breezy with a deft touch. Even when accentuating the former, however, Finn kept the melodies memorable — a trait he shares with like-minded contemporary Robyn Hitchcock.
That parallel was most vivid on “Dirty Creature” — a Hammer horror ditty on which Finn recruited an aud member to tickle the ivories, advising him “it’s just B into E… oh, just play some shit” — as well as “Midnight Coma,” a bittersweet offering from the newly released Manhattan album “Imaginary Kingdom.”
Finn peppered the 70-minute set with songs from that disc, a collection that proves he hasn’t developed the emotional middle-age spread so common to singer-songwriters who’ve recently passed 50. Sure, he played a song (the elegantly eerie, “Titanic”-themed “Unsinkable”) inspired by his 9-year-old son, but rather than coat the tune in syrup, he layered it with absinthe, all the better to convey the “icy death made glamorous” tone.
Perf was long on offerings that tickled longtime Finn-philes in the aud, including such Split Enz re-examinations as a fairly faithful “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” and a version of “I See Red” that wisely avoided trying to recapture the electro-shock vibe of the original.
Finn was complemented throughout by Brett Adams, whose lead guitar and backing vocals provided a rough, visceral counterpoint to his own crystal-clear stylings. The musicians parried cleverly, but Finn never ceded control, nor did he need to — his easy command and unblemished tenor gave him all the tools he needed to ensnare his listeners.