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Concert Review: Split Enz

Concert Review: Split Enz (Phoenix Foundation supporting)

By Malcolm Aitken

Split Enz at the TSB Arena in Wellington on Tuesday night was huge fun and a remarkable nostalgia trip. As the band got more and more into it and the crowd limbered up, a great sense of the fondness a lot of Kiwis feel for the Enz became more and more apparent. You really could feel the love. These are our boys and they were here to remind us of their princely status in the annals of New Zealand rock/pop history, entertain us with some damned good music and have a ball in the process.

As over-whelmed, however, as I was by a strange musically-inspired nationalism, I was just as under-whelmed by the acoustics at the Arena. It’s been said before, but the acoustics in that building are just inferior. Anything visually-led such as the WOW Awards last year might work well. For musical performances, though, forget it.

The Enz took a while to get totally into the groove, I thought, especially Tim Finn, but once they were going it was as high energy, quirky and just, well, as Split Enz as ever. They still impress with their pure musicianship. These guys are masters. They’ve been in the business for a long time, although this concert along with one they’d performed in Christchurch and an up-coming Auckland show, were their first in New Zealand since the Millennium gig at the Auckland Viaduct.

They started with Shark Attack, which was hitting the ground sprinting and they carried it off well. A few pieces in and they got into some pretty serious keyboard and percussion antics with keyboardist Eddie Rayner’s old classic from the True Colours album, the instrumental Double Happy. And they did a wonderful rendition of Nobody Takes Me Seriously (anyway).

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The brothers Finn are a fabulous team. Tim with his very wide vocal range, was hitting notes from all over the scale and Neil’s smoother, poppy roll-along sort of timbre complemented him well.

The crowd vibe was pretty quiet to start with, but when Tim burst into the now virtually iconic opening verse of Six Months in a Leaky Boat– “when I was a young boy…”– the urge to bop became too strong for many of us: this was the signal to get up on your feet. Neil had, after all, reminded the crowd a couple of times that he really wouldn’t mind if we danced in the aisles.

It’s worth keeping in mind the demographic of this audience. A personal highlight of the night for me was when this slightly tubby, grey-haired, probably 50-something guy next to me, stomping his feet and sweating his ass off, yelled out in joy when the Enz came back on for their second encore. His mirthful shouting was replete with expletives about what a big night he was having.

There were a few good-humoured moments on stage too, like when an obviously proud Neil alluded to his son, Liam, who was, “incidentally”–in case anyone was wondering–in Buffalo, Up-State New York (being a very successful musician). Although he had once played the song they were about to perform to Liam on loop as a lullaby, Liam was probably not asleep at that very moment. Thanks for that Neil. Well, what can you say? A proud dad. And who wouldn’t be?

No Split Enz concert would be complete without the somewhat odd and totally brilliant Noel Crombie playing the spoons in his inimitable style and there was a very cool percussion solo from the newest member of the band, Michael Barker. Obviously someone to watch out for: this man has serious talent.

The reality of the night was that Split Enz pulled off a gig-and-a-half, despite some audio and visual impairments. There was bad acoustics, an ugly backdrop that looked like a poorly-constructed Flintstones stage set or something, and their wardrobes! Creamy off white suits that were positively too Barry Manilow-esque for me anyway. The impressive lighting did mitigate things slightly.

At the end of the day, in the final analysis, the crowd and Kiwi musicianship were the winners. Thank you again Split Enz.

Earlier, the Phoenix Foundation had played some wonderfully upbeat Indie rock and a few lower key numbers to get the night started and performed very well. It was a big gig for them and they certainly rose to the occasion. Most enjoyable.


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