Neil Finn of Crowded House performs during their 20th anniversary show at the Sydney Opera House, in Sydney, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016.
Neil Finn of Crowded House performs during their 20th anniversary show at the Sydney Opera House, in Sydney, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. AAP Image - Dan Himbrechts

Crowded House booed at the Opera House

YOU don't expect Crowded House to get booed. But that's exactly what happened halfway through their Encore performance on the steps of Sydney's Opera House on Thursday night.

It wasn't technical difficulties, though there were a couple of glitches here and there. It wasn't that they were rusty and fluffing up. They were simultaneously tight and slick, but also wildly loose and free.

Masterful, is the word I'm looking for here.

And it wasn't the set list selection. Crowded House have more classics to call on than ancient Greece, so you can't really go wrong there.

Nevertheless there they were; Boos. Jeers. Whaaaa?

The band's crime was a simple one. Bassist Nick Seymour had just admitted to being a Melbourne boy in the heart of Sydney's city.

"Come on," Neil Finn said over all the booing. "We can do better rivalries than this!"

While Finn didn't embrace that opportunity to remind the baying crowd of his Kiwi heritage he had flown the flag at the very start of the night.

Opening with Mean to Me from their self-titled debut, Finn let the vowels of the lyric, 'and the sound of Te Awamutu' hang over the Opera House for an exaggeratedly long time.

The extended "mutuuuuuu" eventually giving way to silence to give the audience their first opportunity to applaud the band whose entrance on stage moments earlier had been disguised by Gregorian chanting, billowing smoke and what looked like cloaked Ringwraiths scuttering across the stage.

Anyway, Seymour's shock admission had been bought on by a moment of surreal oddity.

The band had just ripped through an astonishingly great, funked up freak-out of their hit Chocolate Cake.

As Finn left the keyboard he'd been hammering away on to return to the front of the stage he unexpectedly burst into an acapella of the theme tune for the old kid's telly show Humphrey B Bear.

"It's funny what pops into your mind," he offered as way of explanation. Seymour remarked he hadn't seen it as he was a Melbourne boy and it didn't screen there.

As Seymour laughed off his boos, Finn looked down at his set list and let out a big sigh.

"Oh," he said, with a mischievous look, "I couldn't have set this song up any worse...."

Then those familiar chords of Don't Dream It's Over rang out and those few boos were immediately drowned out by cheers.

There was a lot of that throughout the night. And there was a lot of singing along. Not just in the usual choruses either. Often Finn would stand aside to let the crowd take whole verses.

The crowd first took over during the evening's second song Something So Strong and jumped on every opportunity to get involved thereafter.

The band had fun with it. Sometimes Finn was rock n' roll, leading call and response's like, "Say 'Heeeey-ehhh', Say 'Ohhhhh-ohhh'.

Sometimes he sprung surprise instruction on the crowd.

"You weren't ready for that one?" he laughed when his sudden conductor gesture was met with only silence, "let's try it again,".

And sometimes he sympathised. 'That's the only hard part in the whole song," he said when the high rising last chorus line of Fall at Your Feet caused some obvious crowd vocal difficulties.

It was incredibly fun and incredibly funny. Crowded House really were in a playful mood. They had little impromptu jams in their songs, they had great stage banter and they were clearly having fun up there. The whole night had a celebratory vibe.

And hot damn did they sound good. Finn attacking his solos with all the herky jerky movements of his Split Enz tenure as Seymour either stomped around the stage or did his best moptop head wiggle.

Drummer Matt Sherrod gave the band brute funky power but also had the required subtle, soft touch that songs like It's Only Natural require, while multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart gave a virtuoso performance jumping from keys to gats to slide guitar with ease. His New Orleans style piano solo during Waking up the Dead was blazing.

And, as Finn said as way of introduction, "because it wouldn't truly be a Crowded House encore performance without my brother Tim," his brother Tim joined in for a few songs too.

As the brothers sung the harmonies, the peculiar mood of Four Seasons in One Day proved it's nothing less than the greatest Beatles song the Beatles never wrote.'

But perhaps Crowded House's greatest feat was how they made a harbour - not a stadium, a gawdamn harbour - feel small. It's strange to call it an intimate performance, but that's how it felt.

"I'm kinda lost for words," Finn said before kicking into Better Be Home Soon to end the evening. "Crowded House loves you all and we can feel your love."

It had been 20 years exactly since the band had played their iconic farewell gig on these same steps and it was obvious that they had been sorely missed.

The timeless quality of their songs and the way they performed them with such precision and relaxed playfulness made for something truly special indeed. The picturesque and ever changing background of Sydney harbour and the piercing edges of the Opera House just heightening that feeling even more.

"What a glorious evening," Finn remarked at one point and he was entirely right. It was.

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