Among the more egregious oversights of my concert schedule of the last few years is the dearth of Liam Finn shows. Despite his exhaustive touring runs, I've seen him only in supporting roles at Largo--one of which took place several years ago--and I had to miss his recent series of shows with Wilco. Man, I dropped the ball on this one, but at least I won't have to concoct another excuse, now that I've caught Liam and EJ's return to San Francisco, this time with a headlining show at the Independent.
Liam Finn and Eliza Jane Barnes, the Independent, October 23, 2009: Fun fact--the last time I saw Liam Finn in concert, it turned out to be the same night that the New Yorker was doing a story on Largo. Feel free to compare the writer's account of the night with mine!
Though I can't say I've taken in an entire Liam Finn performance before, Liam's wry, spontaneous disposition shined through in the segments I've seen, and I was happy to discover that he hasn't ditched either quality, as evidenced by this gig. Liam and E.J. welcomed the audience as if we were old friends, which felt appropriate, considering they've been through several times now. I believe they even toasted us at least once (maybe more), and at one point, they asked us to allow them an experiment, the details of which I can't recall, except that it involved the kick drum. I believe it also led Liam to comment that he wished he had a clitoris for such an occasion.
As I recall, they opened with a couple of tunes from their new LP and mixed in more of the newer songs, while of course dipping into I'll Be Lightning. Though I've enjoyed plenty of skillful looping in my concertgoing life, I'm still blown away when I realize that I can hear gorgeous layers of guitar when the artist in question is firmly situated behind, say, the drums.
Simply, it's just fun to watch Liam maneuver through his setup. Add in E.J.'s lovely voice, her percussive contributions, and her puckish encouragement, and it's easy to feel that you're among insanely talented friends, as opposed to a formal show.
The thing about seeing Liam Finn in concert--not just for me, but I'm guessing for multitudes of others--is that he's not just another young rocker. When I watch him, I can't help but think of him as the evolution of at least a couple of threads from my listening history.
Though I know it's not a new phenomenon--children of famous musicians embarking on the same career as their parents--it's new to me. Oh sure, the younger Dylans, Lennons, and, er, Wilson Phillips have piped up, but their sires were not my generational touchstones. The same cannot be said for Liam Finn, as Neil Finn is one of my longtime favorites.
I can remember attending Crowded House in concert in the early '90s and seeing Liam and his brother Elroy trailing their parents. More recently--or maybe not so recently, come to think of it--I watched Liam open for Neil at the old Largo. Even then, Liam exhibited a poise and confidence that belied his age. As I recall, Liam gently took the piss out of his dad for a moment, mockingly strumming through "Four Seasons in One Day."
Speaking of Largo, that's the other influence to jump out at me. Multiple instruments, expert looping, head-first experimentation--kinda sounds like someone I see in concert a lot, doesn't it? That, I'm sure, is no coincidence either.
But in both cases, Liam doesn't merely ape his forebears. On the one hand, I was shocked to see how many mannerisms that Liam shares with Neil, and you can argue that Liam inherited some of his family's abilities--maybe those warm, sweet voices, for example. And while Liam's songs reveal a strong strain of classical songwriting (especially in the arrangements and melodies), he also flaunts a wilder, messier side that makes perfect sense for someone his age. In many ways, Liam represents the next step for so much of the music I love, and their last song, a cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," beautifully exemplified the ease with which they span the eras. The future, I hazard, is in good hands.
Jason Lytle, formerly of the band Grandaddy, opened the show with some trepidation and a mention that he's usually at home on his couch around this time every week. He eventually warmed to the crowd, while still referring to that killer couch throughout his set. For many reasons, I saw Grandaddy (the band, not my kin) a lot while they were in circulation, at venues ranging from Bottom of the Hill to their opening slot for Coldplay at the Warfield, a gig featuring a cameo by an alarmingly bedraggled Elliott Smith.
An abundance of trucker caps, beards, and camouflage, worn by both the band and the audience, dominate my memories of those shows, but one element that was sorely lacking was any iota of personality. The same, however, can't be said for Jason Lytle's show tonight. His high, reedy voice remains, as does the acoustic/digital mix that may sound familiar to Grandaddy fans, but between the songs, he actually engaged with the audience. He expressed his appreciation of Liam Finn and alluded to his California roots. He also threw in a Beach Boys cover to sweeten the pot.
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