On a late August afternoon, Tim Finn is sitting in his home studio and contemplating a life in music. Beside him is the upright piano from his boyhood home; behind him is an ancient marching drum.
Finn has spent virtually his entire creative life pushing forward. Now, after a busy time in recent years writing new music and working extensively in theatre, New Zealand’s national treasure is taking time to look over his shoulder before hitting the road with a full band to celebrate his remarkable songbook.
A retrospective tour like this is a big deal. After being largely off the concert grid for the last decade, audiences will witness the return of the man who, apart from his formidable solo career, led Split Enz and was a seminal part of Crowded House during the all-conquering Woodface era.
Choosing a set list for his tour shouldn’t be easy, but Finn has come up with a unique way of staging the show he’s dubbed ‘The Lives And Times of Tim Finn’.
“I’m playing the songs in chronological order,” he explains, “going through the different lives that people know me from. From being in Split Enz, with all the different periods of that band to the solo work. Along with the album I made with Crowded House, that’s where the main source materials are coming from.”
The motivation stemmed from a killer gig that Finn played outdoors in Manly last year. “I played a one-off open air show for 2000 people and loved the way my live band was so tight and focused. Playing all the parts that belong on the recordings, the right sounds, the right grooves… it made me want to do it again.
“I’ve done tours before, and we have sort of thrown down versions of, say, Split Enz songs, but we haven’t really gotten into the minutiae of the arrangements, especially with keyboard parts and guitar parts. Now we’re trying to get it absolutely nailed.
“The band has really enjoyed learning all those parts. Who wouldn’t want to learn Eddie Rayner’s synth in “Charlie” or “Ghost Girl”? Or the incredible arrangement and orchestrations he came up with on “Dirty Creature”?
“We’re playing really beautiful venues too, and we’ve got a lighting show that is being done by a guy who works mainly in theatre. It will have a lot of atmosphere.”
Leafing through Finn’s catalogue, the man has been involved in several albums that are, for his fan base, let alone the broader community, era-defining. Everyone from Eddie Vedder to card-carrying ‘Frenz of the Enz’ members can wax lyrical on the merits of Dizrythmia, True Colours, Time and Tide, Woodface, Escapade, and Before & After.
While each of those records could be played in their entirety, on this tour Finn is focusing on songs that were hits or album cuts that left a mark on the culture. Songs like “I See Red”, “Six Months in a Leaky Boat”, “Dirty Creature”, “Weather With You”, “Chocolate Cake”, “Fraction Too Much Friction”, and the list goes on.
“Those are songs that I still love playing,” says Finn when Rolling Stone throws some titles at him. “As I said, the band I’ve got now know all the old stuff really, really, well. The show starts around 1977 with some songs from Dizrythmia. The setlist goes as far as the early 1990s. There are quite a few songs to do, so I might have to do a part two at some point,” he laughs.
Looking back on a lifetime of seeing live shows, this writer can count on one hand the number of frontmen that can walk onto a stage, hold the audience in the palm of their hand and, as far as rock ‘n’ roll metaphors go, proceed to burn the place to the ground. Finn is high on that list.
Still, the fascinating thing about him as a frontman is that he’s completely unique. Think about New Zealand in the sixties and seventies, the broader culture, the rock icons of the day and wonder – where did Finn find such a singular stage persona?
“It’s a very good question,” he admits. “I really don’t know because there’s no direct person I was influenced by, because I loved groups. I mean you’ve got The Rolling Stones with Mick Jagger – who is a peerless example of a great frontman – but a lot of the groups I liked didn’t have frontmen, they just had two guitars, bass and drums. So even though you might have known who wrote the song by who was singing it, they would then melt back into the band and you wouldn’t think of them the same way that you think of, say, Jagger.
“Jagger wasn’t particularly an influence. I never saw them live for a start. So, it’s really hard to know who I was channeling or emulating. I think I just made it up and I look back now with some nostalgia.
“I was talking to Jimmy Barnes about this in Auckland about a year or so back. We were at this dinner party talking about being the frontman. It’s a fading art.
“We were having a bit of a laugh about it and also having a bit of a nostalgic moment. (We) know how great it feels to be in front of a great band and to feel that responsibility and that awesome kind of freedom and power as well. And then you realise, the crowd is there to be taken: you can just play with that energy and they love it and you love it.
“It’s a special thing, which is very different to being a guitarist or having to play your instrument. It’s something that I don’t miss, but I love getting back into it occasionally like I will be on this tour.”
Tim Finn 2023 Australia & New Zealand Tour
With special guest Hayley Mary
Wednesday, September 13th
Palais Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday, September 14th
Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday, September 17th
Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday, September 20th
Town Hall, Christchurch, NZ
Thursday, September 21st
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ
Saturday, September 23rd
Civic Theatre, Auckland, NZ