10 February, Twilight at Taronga

It wasn’t just another night at the zoo for the giraffes and elephants. A cool breeze blew over early punters on a balmy summers evening at Taronga Zoo – as they lay out their picnic rugs and blankets and set up their tarps. Beverages were poured and cheese platters set up – couples clinked glasses and children gathered around their parents, ready for a night of musical education that the younger generation so desperately needed.

As far as venues go – I don’t think anything in the world compares to Taronga Zoo. You’re on the greenest patch of grass, looking out at a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, whilst watching and listening to some of Australia’s finest and brightest. A stellar and eclectic line up every year – this year was no exception with Aussie music gems The Preatures, Dan Sultan, Paul Dempsey and James Morrison gracing the stage. Also worth an honorable mention is the free zoo ticket you get with any twilight at Taronga show you see.

Tonight, music lovers flocked together to enjoy the tunes of a much-welcomed family affair. One of the most influential artists this side of the hemisphere and his exceptionally talented son, beloved NZ music legends Neil & Liam Finn.
Having played gigs together for a while now – the father and son duo have come together to release their collaborative album Where’s My Room? Their current tour has seen them play all over New Zealand in offbeat and eccentric venues such as Owaka Memorial Hall and St Peter’s Village Hall.

This evening, the duo graced the stage of the zoo, complete with a backing band full of family and close friends. Liam’s mother Sharon and younger brother Elroy made up the bass and drumming components, while Eliza Jane Barnes brought fire with her backing vocals and John Carroll Kirby played the keys.

Alex The Astronaut took to the stage just before 7pm. As the setting sun danced between the clouds – shining through pockets of clear sky, the true blue songbird told stories through melodies like a young female Paul Kelly. Just her and a guitar – she had the audience immersed in tales of their home city – breakups and rock stars, as well as giving them a giggle or two along the way with her humorous and relatable stories. There was a realness about Alex that could be compared to Courtney Barnett or Tash Sultana – she performed just as she is. That kind of presence can not be faked.

At 8pm the sounds of the surrounding wildlife, both zoo, and non-zoo, were drowned out by an exuberant cheer, as the band entered the stage. Glasses were raised in triumph as the kiwi icons picked up their instruments ready for the show. Neil Finn as charismatic as ever, launched into the opening chords of Distant Sun, much to the delight of Crowded House fans. Liam carried the lead guitar like a sword into battle, with musicianship, raw talent and flare, while the band fed off the surrounding energy – smiling at one another through the music.

The band played a glowing version of Pineapple Head, before a couple of new tracks from the upcoming album – leaving every audience member with a warm smile on their face.

Then taking us on a journey – blowing through the wind, Neil and Liam wove their way through an intricate and mesmerising Meet Me In The Air. Neil took the keyboard as Liam absolutely shone on vocals and guitar. There wasn’t an eye that wasn’t glued to the stage.

“This next one is a slow jam,” joked Liam Finn – his wicked sense of humour flashing through his mischievous smile. “Snuggle up to the person next to you, but make sure you don’t get any tears on their silk shirt,” he muses before launching into Crowded House classic Fall At Your Feet.

As the night went on, there was a diverse mix of both new material and old classics. Crowd favourites Message To My Girl and I Got You proved to be timeless as people sang, foot tapped and cheered along. A small dancefloor of parents and retirees buzzed and bopped down the front, much to the band’s delight. Liam and Neil are the perfect combination of young vigor mixed with a lifetime of experience – both taking to several instruments throughout the night. At one point, Neil Finn sat at the keyboard with his guitar on his lap. He preceded to alternate playing both for the same song.

Seeing the show out, a stunning and nostalgic sing-along of Better Be Home Soon breezed across the grounds of Taronga Zoo. Hands were held, bodies swayed and lyrics were sung with passion and pride. Live music is a beautiful thing but when it’s coming from a band that has made such an impact on the music scene of your home for so long, a new level of appreciation and admiration is achieved. Neil and Liam have encapsulated just that among adoring fans and I’m sure this new album will be well worth the wait.