Retrospective style gigs are like comfort food: pleasure is safe, warm and guaranteed. When it’s both Neil Finn and Paul Kelly onstage, promising to play their own hits as well as pay homage to each other’s, the prospect gets a touch spicier but doubly assured of pleasure.
As the lights dim, we slip into an Australian summer evening – nothing but the drone and chirp of insects from the dark. Finn and Kelly emerge holding lanterns and play an acoustic duo against a backdrop of gnarled trees. Their intent is clear: to size-down the cavernous Concert Hall into a setting as intimate as a family campsite.
Thus established, even when the lights later flare, and the band rock out, that intimacy is not lost. Kelly and Finn are accomplished singer-songwriters and know in their bones and blood, like the best do, that without this bond, their stories may move us but they’ll never be ours too.
Some songs are 30-year-old grownups now like Split Enz’ track ‘Message To My Girl’, yet they don’t feel dusty. Finn and Kelly seem invigorated by the show’s concept as well as by playing with Neil’s son Elroy on drums and Paul’s nephew Dan on guitar. “We’ve hit the big time now Paul,” jokes Finn, gesturing at the Concert Hall. Quick, funny and irreverent, Finn carries most of the banter. Meanwhile, Kelly accepts several good-natured jabs about his musicianship, some of them self-directed. “The good thing about having Neil Finn in your band is he does all the hard bits.”
There are many great moments. Kelly’s ‘Dumb Things’ is so boisterous and fun that, close my eyes, and I’m dancing and sloshing beer at my local as a cover band belts it out. But ultimately it’s the interplay – visual, verbal, musical – between Kelly and Finn that elevates the show to something more special than most.
Because while they deliver their own songs beautifully, it’s only when Kelly sings Crowed House perennial ‘Into Temptation’ that I realise the song was felled long ago by over-familiarity, its edges all worn off. Kelly sings it hands-free of a guitar, completely in the moment, drawing forth the song’s dark, rueful tale of lust’s abyss in a way I had not heard before.
Even Finn seems overcome, bereft for a moment of wisecracks and wordplay, simply saying: “Paul Kelly, you released it from its shackles.”
SMH version here.