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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Having a Baby: The Opera House, 28/08/09

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Liam Finn has been a busy boy.

Since the release of his debut album, I’ll Be Lightning in 2007, he has toured almost continuously, playing shows across Europe, the United States and Australasia. He’s performed on The Late Show, participated in the wide-reaching charitable project 7 Worlds Collide, and toured with Eddie Vedder and Wilco. Just two weeks ago he completed a tour of New Zealand promoting his new EP, Champagne in Seashells, and his latest collaborative effort: Having a Baby, the present name given to a collective of his talented and musical friends that reads like a ‘who’s-who’ of Kiwi indie stars.

The super group is comprised of Finn; Eliza-Jane Barnes, daughter of Australian rocker Jimmy; The Reduction Agents’ singer-songwriter and erstwhile Brunette Lawrence Arabia; and Connan Mockasin and Seamus Ebbs of blues-pop outfit Connan & The Mockasins. My ‘plus one’ Pete and I attended the Wellington show of their tour, and experienced Having a Baby (that is, the band) from our covetable seats in the Opera House’s Circle.

The seven-strong band (Having a Baby, plus two session musicians) burst onto the stage with a rendition of their theme song of the same name. At once, the group’s off-stage friendship was obvious, reinforcing Finn’s comments in interviews that Having a Baby is “just a glorified hanging out”: the sense of camaraderie between them was a defining feature of the gig. At times, the between-song banter crossed into the exclusive territory of in-jokes, but largely their stage presence was good-humoured and entertaining.

The three-hour set was divided between Mockasin, Arabia, and Barnes and Finn, allowing each to take the spotlight and perform their own songs. Wearing a long trench coat, his blond bowl-cut pushed into his eyes, Mockasin’s spectral, fragmented voice ‘did not compute’ initially: it was quite unlike anything I’d ever heard before, but once I adapted to his unique flair, I found it refreshing. ‘It’s Chode’ (and his explanation of the term), and the infectious chorus of ‘Sneaky Sneaky Dogfriend’ raised some laughs from the audience.

The extroversion of Mockasin was complemented by the down-to-earth and understated Lawrence Arabia, whose folksy doo-wop pop featured in the second hour. ‘Talk About Good Times’ saw Arabia at his most Bowie-esque, and ‘The Beautiful Young Crew’ was simply lovely, its stirring trumpet solo and a cappella, three-part harmony choral interlude reinforcing once again the talent of these musicians. Each member of Having a Baby had taken the time to learn and contribute to the others’ songs: truly, this is a group endeavour.

For a large group of people, with an even larger collection of instruments, it was a well-rehearsed, seamless set—and to paraphrase American Beauty, I watched them very closely and they didn’t screw up once! There was a fluid, casual vibe to their performance, which often seemed like a big jam between friends. Although all members multi-tasked, Finn was established to be the star instrumentalist as he jumped between electric and acoustic songs, lead vocals and harmonies, drums and percussion, between and during songs. He danced about the stage as though he were the centre of attention—which, frankly, he probably was, having doubtless been the biggest draw for most of the crowd present.

Following a short clip of Othello as re-enacted by toy horses (set to The Supremes’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’), Fin and Barnes took to the stage, sans the rest of the band, to perform songs from I’ll Be Lightning and Champagne in Seashells. The tumultuous climax of ‘Gather to The Chapel’ worked well live, with two vocals, a guitar and an effects pedal somehow creating a spacious and atmospheric sound, while ‘Second Chance’ turned into a sing-a-long that extended across the Opera House.

At times, Finn seemed overly reliant on the array of technology at his disposal, taking on the role of a ‘mad professor’ as he created complex walls of electronic noise, mid-song, by way of special effects pedals and a theremin. Although this was impressive at first, it came across as rather self-indulgent, if not pretentious by the third or fourth time. Personally, I found the most charming moments of Finn’s set to be ‘Fire in Your Belly’ and ‘Remember When’, where he and Barnes sang to just the gentle strum of his guitar, their voices not obscured by the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of electronic influence. These songs, plus his newest piece ‘Honest Face’, showcased him at his most delicate and introspective: a welcome relief from the previous hours’ lavish instrumentation.

That said, when the band returned during Finn’s set, it was clear just how much of the concert’s appeal was a result of the performers’ gregariousness. Their encore was a rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, and while it was an unusual choice, it effectively demonstrated each musician’s individual (and considerable) talent, as well as their pleasure of performing with their favourite people.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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  1. Kevin says:

    I was at the show and Liam was great but Miss Barnes would have been better off staying at home…I just found her annoying with her whinny voice and she should get some lessons on how to use her arms instead flailing them around like an octupus.
    Obviously case of riding on fathers coat tails that she is in a band at all….pathetic!

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