Neil Finn induces live giddiness with songs from his latest album Dizzy Heights, writes Russell Baillie
The last time Neil Finn wandered up the road to the Powerstation was for a charity Christmas gig. This one, the third night of a five-show national tour, was supposedly a more serious affair.
Well, it was election night after all. Finn, as he told us later, was wearing an expensive suit. There was a baby grand piano taking up a fair chunk of the stage and the backdrop resembled the aftermath of an explosion in a feather boa factory.
And seemingly most serious of all, it was a tour for album Dizzy Heights, Finn's arty, funky, freaky and arguably most challenging solo excursion of the three he's made in between Crowded House reunions, fraternal collaborations and inviting his mates over for 7 Worlds Collide get-togethers.
One of those mates was also the opener - Bic Runga making a live comeback after extended maternity leave. Playing solo, Runga was as beguiling as ever, with those post-teen early hits like Drive and Sway sounding timeless. Getting Finn up to play the piano parts he added to her 2005 Birds album and vocal harmonies gave songs like Winning Arrow a torch-tune kind of elegance.
Her sideman joshed that having to wait for two verses and two choruses before coming in was an exercise in restraint he probably needed.
Not that there was much dialling it back when it came to Finn's own show.
Yes, it might have been the Dizzy Heights tour, with most of the album making the setlist. Album opener Impressions was aptly first with Finn showing the unearthly falsetto used on much of the album wasn't just the result of a studio knob-twiddle.
It was a grandly psychedelic overture to a night which eventually came to a close 28 songs later, having ridden a fine line between musical left-turns and Finn-faves and sometimes a spontaneous combination of both.
Yes, there were plenty of greatest hits - History Never Repeats certainly seemed appropriate given the election while Finn remarked it was nice to be oblivious to the big event.
The usual Auckland deal - buy a ticket for one Finn, get at least another one free - applied, with brother Tim adding his voice and playing to a brothers-only three-song bracket which started out with a joyous Angel's Heap.
There was a second Finn on stage for much of the night - wife Sharon, playing bass as she had in sideline band and album The Pajama Club. But while back then she might have started off a bit, well, Linda McCartney, on the instrument she's much more Paul now.
Actually her husband's whole backing band of mostly young local recruits was terrific, especially star-in-his-own-right Jesse Sheehan.
Having been brought into Split Enz as a teen prodigy, it seems Finn has applied a similar recruitment policy. And if many of the songs were older than those playing them, they were still delivered with finesse, character and occasional reinvention - Don't Dream It's Over became a piano croon, Something So Strong near the end of the night something strange and pulsating.
Live, the new Dizzy Heights songs offered much to get giddy about: White Lies and Alibis, taking its inspiration from the prison experiences of one of the West Memphis 3, was quite the epic musical fever-dream, especially as it folded into Divebomber, a song featuring the best use of plane noises since the Pink Floyd air force started going down in flames.
The Crowded House and Enz-dominated encore was nicely spiced up by the Dizzy Heights title track and the album's hypnotically groovy Roxy Music-esque Flying in the Face of Love.
Yes, it was a night which did plenty and eventually ended - with a singalong Better Be Home Soon - in familiar territory.
But on this night it sounded like Finn's new ideas were refreshing his old ones. He's always been predictably great live. Here he was unpredictably brilliant too.
Who: Neil Finn, Bic Runga