In a career-spanning perf that was never short of brilliant, the wondrous songwriter Neil Finn spent nearly 2½ hours delivering music from his latest solo disc, “One All” (Nettwerk America); hits and oddities from his days fronting Split Enz and Crowded House; and covers that bounced from Arlo Guthrie to the Smiths. He also told some wonderfully endearing and comic stories. A packed House of Blues — Finn sold out both nights — was warmly receptive to his every move (proof that good music still has an audience), and his easygoing looseness belied the tight professionalism of the band onstage with him.
Finn’s a master pop craftsman whose work — brimming with intimate sentiment and populist melodies — is based on deceptively simple chord structures and then enhanced with tempo changes and voicings from a second guitar. Much as his solo material bears an undeniable latter-day Crowded House stamp, the newer works often borrow from harsher aspects of that band’s early album tracks. “One All” rests just a notch below Crowded House’s “Woodface” in terms of consistent brilliance.
Material from “One All” dominated the 23-song evening, and this was no case of trying to rewarm some well-trod motifs of yore — “Human Kindness” is as good a pop song as anyone has written in the last 20 years and deserves, as this album does, greater media attention. Finn is touring with the musicians who appeared on the disc, which greatly benefited the perf. Perhaps most important was Lisa Germano, who moved from keyboards to violin to guitar, playing each with authority.
Crowded House material, too, was given top-shelf attention. A duet with Grant-Lee Phillips on “Four Seasons in One Day,” which followed a sweetly rendered version of GLP’s “Honey Don’t Think,” was magical; “Fall at Your Feet” demonstrated Finn attracts an audience that can sing in tune; and the guitar lines of “Always Take the Weather” were treated sumptuously by former Smiths co-leader Johnny Marr. Best of all was the ditty Finn could have written last week, “Love This Life.”
Finn’s return to the 1980s found him playing Morrissey to Marr as the band romped through the Smiths’ love-and-death ode “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and the mystical “How Soon Is Now.” He turned to his own history for Split Enz’s lone smash “I Got You” (my, has he come far as a songwriter) and the gentler “One Step Ahead.”
During his second encore, Finn said he felt a sense of community with audiences in Los Angeles, words few performers would say about crowds that are often industry-heavy. Maybe it’s time the industry took another listen. Finn’s tour lands July 19 and 22 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York.