Review: Liam Finn – Manchester Deaf Institute

I can’t always judge a night like this…but if the occasion arises when i’m stood next to Johnny Marr and still can’t take my eyes off the stage…it’s been a pretty damn good gig!
Tonight, down at the utterly brilliant Deaf Institute, a Kiwi was in our midst. Son of Neil Finn of Crowded House, ex-lead singer of Betchadupa, and all-round lovely guy, Liam Finn took to the stage following a somewhat average warm-up set from his bass player. Finn is currently on tour promoting his new album FOMO, a record made under the influence of psych-pop-rock, hinting at late Beatles work and echoing early Shins and a hint of Flaming Lips. Though FOMO isn’t exactly folk, it’s predecessor, 2007’s I’ll Be Lightning, certainly embraced the genre at times, peering through the cracks of the poppy sensation. Tonight however, there were few signs of it…not that this was a bad thing…tonight was all about pure, electric gold.
Known for his looping and layering, Finn clambered on stage alone with his guitar; playing a number of odd riffs and chords, mixing each one over another, before a crowd somewhat uncertain of what was to come. Leaving them to swirl away in song form, he then took to a drum kit, (one of two), and played a rising, rolling beat…before bashing the living hell out of it in a manner we can only liken to Animal of Muppet fame…
The energy…oh the energy! A precedent was set…we were awake…the stage was alive! Now joined by his band of three others (bass, drums and backing vocals/percussion), Finn swooped seamlessly into I’ll Be Lightning, title track of the debut album, before heading into Better To Be, an equally energetic and bass-fuelled number. We were next treated to the first of several tunes from new record FOMO, starting with the superbly honest Neurotic World – “I knew I couldn’t have you / right from the very start / and that’s why you see right through me / the boy who ate your heart.” Delighting his audience with further electric numbers, Finn then hopped between albums as well as instruments with as much energy as one man can muster…never before have I witnessed a performer jump from layering guitar solos, to shouting pitch-perfect declarations, to brilliantly syncing his cymbal-smashing with his drummer brother (literally). Phenomenal stuff! 

The band took a much needed rest with several quieter numbers, including Remember When and Gather To The Chapel…but there was no seriousness to the evening. Even during these moments, the highly entertaining band, including Finn, kept the crowd giggling away with their long-running and extremely comical mix-ups between Elton John and Ben Elton…a lack of raw-emotion was somewhat preferred tonight. 

Finn then threw himself into the brilliantly catchy new single Cold Feet before ending the set with the unbelievably zestful and erratic Lead Balloon. Equipped with a mini-Theremin device, he created looping and screeching noises, throwing himself all over the room and wildly roaring and howling down the mic, before giving the drums a final walloping for good measure… Mr Finn and long-time backing vocalist Eliza-Jane Barnes then returned to the stage to sing a beautifully harmonised number from a 2009 collaborative EP, Champagne In Seashells – apparently the first performance of the track in 2 years. The rest of the band then returned for a final injection of bass, another clang of the guitar and a last smash of the drums before leaving to tremendous applause.

It seemed that many people, including myself, had gone to that gig not really knowing Liam Finn, or at least being uncertain whether he was someone to keep an eye on. But after that show, I’m sure he has cemented himself up there as one of the finest performers around…including Mr Marr.

Dom Kay