Liam Finn & Dan Kelly

Liam Finn & Dan Kelly

A Liam Finn gig is like 'a box of chocolates' and nobody – at times not even Liam – can ever be quite sure what tasty treats he's gonna pull out – until the very moment it happens, live on stage. One thing was a sure bet though – The Faithful who rocked up to The Shadow Electric at The Abbotsford Convent on Friday night to see both Liam and fellow musician Dan Kelly live in performance were certainly all looking forward to finding out!

The Shadow Electric is a new venue to me. Tucked quietly away amongst the outlying buildings of the Abbotsford Covent, it is a friendly no-frills affair, unassuming but welcoming and highly recommended by friends who have seen gigs there in the past. As a venue it undoubtedly has much to offer – much like the artists who will be performing in these walls tonight.

Palm Springs

As I enter the band room, the support act for the evening, Palm Springs is already up to the last two songs in her set. She tells us proudly that this next one, ‘300 Acres’, is a brand new song, the first track from a recently released 7 inch vinyl which 'took bloody ages’ and that she’s very proud of it.

All alone on the stage, her tall figure cuts a statuesque but still somehow vulnerable profile. Her voice is sweetly soothing and perfectly suits the current song’s rolling, dreamy, almost hypnotic vibe.

My immediate thoughts are her voice has a very Mazzy Star vibe ala ‘Fade Into You’. She picks at her guitar strings with a focussed intensity, eyes closed tight, as she feels her way through. The last song of the set is called ‘Winning and Losing’ and I discover later when writing to Erica Dunn via email, was Palm Spring's first ever single. Word is she is considering re-releasing it as a future single. I was impressed with what little I heard and hope to see more of her at some future opportunity.

Dan Kelly

Next up is Dan Kelly. As he walks on stage, the crowd are all still awkwardly hanging back around the walls. He takes the initiative and in warm tones says, “You’re gonna have to come right up the front or we’re gonna play really badly...besides which, it’s nicer up here cos' we’re here". Everyone willingly wanders forward, Dan smiles and we’re introduced to his two beautiful cousins, Madeleine and Memphis Kelly (CW Stoneking, Wishful), who are here to add their heavenly backing vocals. It’s an extended family affair, with Dan dressed in the Aussie Green and Gold and I can immediately see where the night is headed…with Kiwi Liam also in the house, this is the almighty trans-Tasman rivalry at it’s zen-est. Kelly explains that tonight’s set is Queensland themed and the song selections will reflect that.

First song up tonight for 'The Dan Kelly Super Family Jam’ is ‘Baby Bonus’ from his 2015 sunny Queensland offering ‘Leisure Panic’.

Because most of Dan’s material follows a quite picturesque narrative, (similar to his famous uncle, Paul Kelly) he seems to prefer to introduce almost every song in great detail, setting up the scene for us. It takes a little more time to do than just bashing out the tunes quickly but when I think about it, it's a really informed approach. Dave Graney uses it to great effect as does Paul Kelly and many of the other great storyteller songwriters. That Dan has learned to do this is wonderfully informed, because importantly it allows the audience to get straight to the core message of the song – without having to spend most of the song trying to fathom who the protagonist is or their back story. From where I stand up near the stage lip, I can obliquely see Liam Finn through a gap in the drum kit. He’s standing quietly side of stage in the doorway of the band room, well of out of public view – his eyes twinkle approvingly as he enjoys Dan’s frequent and hilarious inapproprisms. I see his head nod along to the melodies and now know all I need to. He’s loving it.

Madeleine and Memphis's harmonies are gorgeous and add a valuable dimensionality to the show. A song from 2010’s 'Dan Kelly’s Dream' album called 'Catholic Leader’ follows. He explains he at first prayed to God to let him stay a virgin until he "went all the way" – and then at 15 prayed for the exact opposite.

The most endearing thing about Dan’s set tonight is he thinks nothing of stopping mid-song to share a witticism that just pops into his head – quite often left field, but always hilarious. The song ends with a pre-recorded version of the 'Our Father’ hymn… corny but very, very cute.

Dan then pulls out a beautifully simple tune which completely bowls me over. It’s entitled “Everything’s Amazing”. Lovely singalong chorus.

He follows this up with ‘Back To Brisbane’ – which because it’s simply guitar and vocal with no bass, keys or drums, really relies on the sister’s backing vocals to carry the melody.

Next song on the setlist is one of this year's best new Australian releases “Never Stop The Rot”. It's another from his new one, 'Leisure Panic' – a rollicking tune and comes across as a very strident version in it’s live simplicity – more powerful than its studio counterpart.

'Gold Coast Man’, the next song – is charming in its candid lyric. It follows the exploits of a Queensland Hydro Electric Worker who visits his girlfriend and takes her to all the theme parks – hilariously it contains the immortal line “Meet me in the middle of the Wet and Wild”.

“Drunk On Election Night’ – another mighty earworm, is a song written as a result of being bummed out after returning home from an overseas trip to find The Liberal Party were back in power for another term. It’s Kelly on his own on acoustic as he gives the Kelly sisters a breather. Before we know it he has us all singing the refrain of “Cocksucker Motherfucker”… such is the disarming charm of the man.

The second to last song for the night is actually the big finisher for me. It's a whacky fantasy Dan dreamed up called “Bindi Irwin Apocalyptic Jam” and after one listen becomes my certified Dan Kelly favourite. Just take a listen to the setup Dan gives us and then watch the song itself.

He finishes the set for tonight with ‘Dan Kelly’s Dream’, another relaxed, feel good slalom that leaves us on a satisfying 'up' in readiness for Liam Finn’s set.

Liam Finn

After what seems like quite a bit of setting up and fine tuning of a plethora of toys on stage, we are at last ready and Liam Finn signals the sound guy to lower the PA. Conjuring up a series of delayed feedback drones from his trusty guitar, Liam stands motionless for a good couple of minutes, his steely gaze off somewhere far in the distance. This immediately has the effect of bestowing a certain intensity upon proceedings, one that has us all transfixed. When he senses he has everyone’s attention, he begins with the intro strum to 'Fire In Your Belly’. There is a warmth and familiarity to the song tonight that I haven’t ever identified with before and I ponder perhaps it is because the softening years of time have imbued it now as an 'old classic’. Immediately heads nod along. After the first verse and chorus, old pal and stage sparring partner, Eliza Jane Barnes joins Liam and there is a sense of completeness on stage. She truly complements him, her dulcet tones a smooth balm and counterpoint to Liam’s sometime edgy, sometimes shambolic, but always quite cathartic eruptions and stage spasms.

This is quickly followed by more old classics: ‘Energy Spent’ and 'Better to Be’. Despite reflecting that it’s been a while since playing together, Eliza Jane and Liam are such a tight unit with these early songs and so comfortable with each other, it becomes an instinctual performance, just like slipping your foot back into an old shoe. He finishes the song with a flurried drum solo – which is met with great applause.

Next is 'Little Words', which despite it’s sad depressing lyrics, has a sweet poignant lullaby vibe and Eliza Jane’s vocals perfectly offset Liam’s.

"Little words, little words come sweet from your tongue
and they work, yeah they work for leading me on
and the ants are crawling on my computer
you inspire lust like the girls in the water"

A co-write with Eliza Jane Barnes off their gorgeous EP ‘Champagne and Seashells’ is next. It’s ‘On Your Side’. Seeing the two friends singing this together is extremely affecting. It’s also a telling sign that at the song’s end, there is not one murmur, not one clap, not one person talking. Eventually after Liam’s guitar finally fades to complete silence, there is one solitary whistler who is then joined by another. Liam looks out into the crowd and remarks on this, saying “It’s alright… let’s not clap…You know, that was a beautiful reverence there…’ (Cheers)

I feel both performers really can sense that they have a beautifully appreciative crowd here tonight.

‘Remember When’ off Finn’s first album ‘I’ll Be Lightning’ has always been a lilting ode and tonight it is floating along beautifully. Liam is a man of extremes though and when he launches into a sublime fuzz solo it’s pure genius – it elevates it to absolute perfection before bringing it home and setting it to rest until it’s next outing.

Liam smashes through old favourite ‘Second Chance’ which was everything we’ve come to expect. Brilliant layering, sampling and all-round multi-tasking and gregarious drum solo with the best impression of Animal from The Muppets I have seen yet.

We’re mid set by now and the next song is a cue to welcome the newest member of the band whom together with Eliza Jane Finn is introduced simply as “Mr Jimmy Finn”. Liam confesses he is calling them all by ‘Finn' in an attempt to compete with the Kelly family singers.

The newish ‘Snug As Fuck’ is next and this sounds gorgeous. The solo that he chooses to end the song is particularly fine.

This is followed by 'Miracle Glance'. A song that borders on ghostly as Eliza Jane wails into her mic. Liam holds his trusty theremin aloft for the duration of the song and deftly extracts the spaciest intergalactic bridges you can imagine. Jimmy’s simple base lines anchor the song and allow his bandmates to veer off into totally wild freeform feedback territory.

We are being treated to a lot of previously unheard tracks, and ‘Ocean’s Emmanuelle’ is yet another. It is a cue for further drone layering. Immediately it reminds me of some of the aural textures Brian Eno was extracting around his ‘Another Green World’ period and also shares the repetitious minimalism of The Cure around the time of ’Seventeen Seconds’ or it’s successor ‘Faith'. It’s really fabulous to see an artist like Liam exploring what is, for him anyway, new territories and creating new soundscapes. If this is what he’s doing now, I can’t wait to see what surprises the next album has in store.

We are headed into the home stretch now and Liam serves up a trio of absolute winners in the shape of ‘4 Track Stomper', ‘Cold Feet’ and 'Burn Up The Road’. But before he does this, he takes the opportunity to thank everyone responsible for making tonight possible, composing a Mistletone Jam on the spot.

‘4 Track Stomper’ is very reminiscent of the song ‘Conditions’ from father Neil Finn's 'Pyjama Club’ project but with it’s frenzied guitar break, much more whacky.

As he tunes between songs, Liam explains that in the absence of his brother Elroy, who is currently galavanting around South America, the drums for some of the songs are pre-programmed. An audience member breaks the silence by asking how he is. Like many Finn related gigs I’ve been too, this unscheduled interjection from the audience is just the catalyst that can often take Liam up a veritable side road and so it is tonight – we get to hear about his new jacket that he purchased in Melbourne in ’sparkly New Zealand All Black’ — a somewhat patriotic couture statement in response to Dan Kelly's Gold And Green tracksuit earlier. This then leads into an impromptu version of the New Zealand National Anthem. I love that he just goes with his muse, and by the response he gets, everyone else does too.

‘Cold Feet’, the melodic charmer from the ‘FOMO’ album is next up and has an almost Hawaiian vibe to it.

After the quiet interlude this provides, some of the punters are getting a tad restless…
“Get on the drums ya PUSSY!”
Liam appears not in the least but fazed by this but instead chooses to respond to the heckler with a muscly ‘Burn Up The Road’, the last single lifted from 2015 ‘The Nihilist’. Whilst the music video for this song in my humble opinion did nothing for the song (It featured Liam CGI’d into a futuristic Motorcycle Derby against his arch rival played by Kirin J Callinan), live it’s something else entirely. The riff is undeniably catchy and with Jimmy’s driving baselines and EJ on rhythm it veritably screams along and I struggle to fathom why it was not a massive hit.

I personally think a live video of it in performance tonight would have done a much better job of selling it in. As the song finishes, Liam suggests they try it a different way to see if it works… The guitar lead part this time is much more rambunctious and he quickly samples it and then dumps the guitar for the drum kit. Obviously responding the to the heckler, he all but demolishes the kit.

Liam: ”Sometimes I think live drums has just got a bit of an edge…"
Heckler: “You’re NOT a pussy...”
Liam: “Thank FUCK I earned back my respect… it’s been a while Melbourne, thank you very much… it’s been an absolute pleasure!"

Last song of the set now. It’s “I’ll Be Lightning” which the audience are all invited to sing along to. With everyone singing the spiralling chorus in unison, it’s heady stuff. Liam samples and loops a tortured solo before abandoning the guitar and heading back onto the drums for the crescendo. He conducts us all from there and implores us to sing louder and faster...the din is immense now and he breaks into a ever quickening drum roll before descending into the deep baritone finish. They all look absolutely spent.

The guys retire briefly to the band room at side of stage before returning with Dan Kelly in tow for a big finale. Liam asks the sound guy to man the drums. I wonder what they can pull out to top what has already been a stellar set?

I did not ponder the possibilities for long as Dan Kelly rips out the unmistakable intro riff to the Devo classic “Gut Feeling”. I’m beyond ecstatic. I’d read that Liam, a massive Devo fan himself, sometimes pulls this treat out as an encore. Not hampered by either guitar or drums, he grabs the mike manically and momentarily stands shirtless at the stage lip before donning his sparkly jacket once again. Totally in character now, his eyes and unruly long hair are wild as he spits out the telling lyrics of relationship breakdown:

"Something about the way you taste
Makes me wanna clear my throat
There's a message to your movements
That really gets my goat
I looked for sniffy linings
But you're rotten to the core
I've had just about all I can take
You know I can't take it no more
I got a gut feeling…"

It is a MEGA wind-up with everyone screaming to the finish line. Liam’s antics and total commitment to the performance are infectious – Dan Kelly is smiling from ear to ear, Eliza Jane giggles and Jimmy just smirks along. It’s obviously a buzz for them all as they get to live out their Devo fantasies for the night.

An altogether brilliant night out. The Liam Finn gig that was served up tonight was indeed like a box of chocolates – tonight’s assortment was a hybrid of 'Favourites' with a couple of moorish ‘Seashells’, some bubbly champagne, and a handful of ‘Finnder Surprises’ thrown in for good measure.

4.5/5 stars.

Dan Kelly’s Set:

Baby Bonus
The Catholic Leader
Everything's Amazing
Back To Brisbane
Never Stop The Rot
Gold Coast Man
Drunk On Election Night
I Will Release Myself (Unto You)
Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam
Dan Kelly's Dream

Dan Kelly has a gig coming up at The Tote on December 20th.

Liam Finn’s Set:

Fire In Your Belly
Better To Be
Little Words
On Your Side
Remember When
Second Chance
Snug As Fuck
Miracle Glance
Ocean Emmanuelle
Impromptu Song: Thank You Mistletone
4 Track Stomper
Cold Feet
Burn Up The Road
I'll Be Lightning
Gut Feeling

Our complete photo gallery of Liam Finn and Dan Kelly is here:
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