Like every band and musician on the planet, we were upended from any traditional way to play shows last year. Everyone was quite bereft. We found ways of trying to bridge the gap by streaming, and I did an online radio thing that I started spontaneously, but, really, our eyes were on the prize: When are we going to be able to do shows again? When New Zealand came up with a COVID elimination strategy that seemed to work, suddenly the possibility of being able to do a New Zealand tour became very real.
We hadn’t played a Crowded House show since 2016, when we were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame. Two years later, I joined Fleetwood Mac for their tour, and the last show I played before the pandemic hit was with them, in late 2019. Being with the Mac is part of what inspired me to get Crowded House back together again. I saw the vitality and freshness and the way a band can be reconfigured or reimagined. I took heart from my experience with them and said, “I’m as fascinated by music as I ever was. It feels worthy, and like it’s doing some good in the world.”
And so we got the band back together, with a new lineup: Nick Seymour, my oldest friend and Crowded House companion on bass, our old collaborator Mitchell Froom on keyboards, my son Liam on guitar, and my son Elroy on drums. We recorded most of our new album, Dreamers Are Waiting, in Los Angeles before quarantine. The name came later. It’s obviously appropriate for the time, in the sense that that’s how we felt—all of us in our little caves, making music and looking outside at this world that we couldn’t wait to re-inhabit.
There was great anticipation all around for the tour. We did quite a lot of interviews leading up to it, and you could just see people’s eyes going, “Yes, we really need this!” It felt like an extra incentive to go on out and really deliver. Christchurch ended up being our first show, on March 10. We opened with a bang, with the song “Weather With You .” It just starts with the tom-tom that goes buh-boom-boom-tch, and then we were off. At first, the audience looked wide-eyed and so unfamiliar with being at a concert again that they didn’t quite know what to do. They seemed a bit shocked, looking around at each other thinking, “Wow, here we are!” We soaked it all in. We were looking at each other a lot on the first night with recognition in our eyes: This is how it feels. It was the body becoming reconnected to the mind. It was joyous.
“The audience seemed a bit shocked, looking around at each other thinking, ‘Wow, here we are!’”
There were a lot of peak moments during the tour. At our first Auckland show, when I started playing “Four Seasons in One Day,” the audience, who had been sitting, spontaneously stood up during the chorus. Now, this is not a big get-up-and-dance kind of song; it’s quite melancholy. But I think they felt that emotion, and they needed to stand and sing along. From there, it was a party until the end.
Our encores were a pretty upbeat selection. We did “Chocolate Cake” and then segued into a version of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Our lighting designer put together a really lovely montage of images of people we consider heroes, including Bowie himself. The health care workers were the main people we took our hats off to, and everyone was cheering for them. It was not heavy-handed in terms of the message, but it was clear.
We finished each night with “Better Be Home Soon.” There were a few tears, onstage and off. That song seemed especially appropriate for all of these expat New Zealanders who have come home, and for us the tour felt like a homecoming, too. It was a joy to go around our country, to some of the most beautiful spots, like Queenstown and the South Island‚ and experience the wonders of it. It had been 20 years since I had done that many shows in New Zealand.
Now I’m looking fondly out at the parts of the world and the people elsewhere that we miss. We can’t wait to get back out there. Where do I want to play next? The world.
Neil Finn is the frontman for Crowded House. The band’s seventh studio album, Dreamers Are Waiting, is out June 4.