ENZSO at the Christchurch Town Hall 31 March 1996

by Jon-Paul Hansen

Dead on 8pm the house lights dimmed on the orchestra and choir, as Eddie Rayner wandered to the grand piano at the front of the stage, and the conductor Peter Scholes stepped onto the podium. The crowd's cheering subsided as the conductor raised his baton. The first notes of the instrumental passage "Pioneer" rang out, in full orchestral glory, swirling and moving around Rayner's intermittant fluid piano tickles.

The instrumental lead soon gave way to "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" distinctive opening bars, played by the brass section. There were no lead vocals, though the choir chimed in with "Six months in a Leaky Boat" at the appropriate times. A choir solo toward the end of the song was accompanied by a raspy vocal from off stage. The crowd cheered as a barefoot gentleman in an olive suit ambled along in front of the stage. The woodwinds entered the show with the familiar "whistling" section of the song. The closing bars were greeted with rapturous applause from the crowd, which was sustained as Tim walked onto the stage and took position at one of the microphones.

Paraphrasing Eric Clapton, he announced "See if you can pick this one?", which of course we all could as it was written in the programme! A piano line reminiscent of the Boomtown Rats "I don't like Mondays" began the piece, and the strings kicked in, evoking feelings off loss and dispair. Tim stepped forward and began the first line a second too soon. He soon regained composure with a slow languid "When my baby's walking down the street, I see Red, I see Red, I see Red." It was all very "nice", but "I see Red" is a song of anger, not self-pity. Just as I was beginning to doubt the arrangement, a fast crescendo built, the tempo quickened, and the chorus was sung at the regular frenzied pace and style, after a dizzying instrumental passage, the song calmed back down to its ballad tempo. This worked wonderfully, the slow passages evoking despair, contrasted with the rage of the faster sections. Tim did look a bit lost during the instrumental sections, and tried to cover that up by looking angry, and stomping on the spot. It looked a bit silly, to be honest.

A slightly trimmer figure, in a white shirt, red waistcoat and large black overcoat. graced the stage upon Tim's exit. Neil looked as uncomfortable during the orchestral pieces as Tim, during the next song, a lush string-laden "Message to my Girl". The younger Finn's vocal cords are undoubtably in better shape than the elders. The only acknowledgement the audience recieved from Neil was a guick "Good Evening". It was very odd to see some of the most entertaining and spontaneous live performers in the world restricted by the occasion. The song gave the choral backup a good workout for the first time- and they were in fine form. It was also great to hear a typical "Neil rant" over the closing instrumental piece.

A stunning looking Annie Crummer was out next to sing "I Hope I Never", showing off her great vocal range and skill. Noone would have been better suited to grapple with those high notes.

In the famous New Zealand poet Sam Hunt, there was at last a person who looked more haggard and world-wary than Tim. His spoken recital of Under the Wheel, with musical backing was a definite change in direction, being very dramatic and moody, and was well recieved by the crowd, though I suspect a good proportion of them would still have been in nappies when it was written.

My Mistake was performed by the inimitable Dave Dobbyn. He was the first to clown around in the instrumental passages, and was more at ease than the others. Dave sang in the vocal style of his old hits "Slice of Heaven" and "Oughtta be in Love", a "cartoon" type voice as it's described in the Programme. It suited the manic feel of the song perfectly. Noel then appeared on the side of the stage in a gold paisley suit, making an awful racket with a violin- until the conductor turned around and "shot" him. Just as the atmosphere began to loosen up, the first set was over.

Noel snuck onto stage a couple of minutes early and began to conduct the orchestra himself. A chaotic, yet coherant instrumental ensued. The conductor, hearing the commotion ran back on stage and took the baton from Noel, much to the crowd's (mock) disgust. "Albert of India" opened the second half with a majestic feel, though with Dave's fooling around and Noel looming in the wings, the whole thing started to feel less formal, and more "enzish".

Dave's return to the stage was welcome, and the grand "Poor Boy" bought shivers to my spine. Neil got a huge cheer as he came back, stopping at Eddies piano to play a few notes. "I think I'll stick to singing" he exclaimed, and left Eddie to tickle the ivories. "Voices", a wonderous ballad from "See ya ‘Round" was the result.

Dave, Tim and Annie joined Neil on stage for a slowed down "Straight ol' Line". The Finns finally looked to be having some fun. Annie sang a verse, and Dave acted the fool again! Then Noel came out for his spoon-solo, which was absolutely incredible. It bought the house down.Crombie then pushed the Peter Scholes aside and conducted the last note of the song.

Tim then introduced the orchestra and choir, as well as Eddie, "Well, it's kind of neat jamming with the NZSO, and of course the youth choir. Both seriously good bands. Eddie Rayner made it all happen of course, and he spent several months here in Christchurch learning to be frisky around the top end of the piano...Where's the beach Eddie, what beach?" "North Beach" "North Beach (adopts a US accent)...anyone here from North Beach Tonight?" (Cheers from small section of the crowd) "All right... youve come a long way" (about 10km actually!)

The show was incredibly starting to feel as relaxed as a Finn show...Then the Finns picked up their acoustic guitars, Noel grabbed a tiny bongo, and the stereotypical double bass player was dragged down the too (Bald, old, fat- a ringer for Bill Haley in fact). The orchestra took a rest, and in true Finn Brothers style, Tim taught the audience how to sing the "DOOOO do-do DOOoo do" part from Bold as Brass, and proceded to sing the song. It was an unexpected bonus, and the kind of thing the Enz (and now CH & the Finns) were reknowned for. The audience clapped and sang along. While they were up there Neil decided to make the most of the opportunity, and performed an acoustic version of History Never Repeats.

After this, Sam Hunt came back, and the orchestra were again utilised for a medley of two songs from the early days. Hunt got a cheer every time he recited his verse (he sat down between verses). Tim & Neil sang harmonies. The tune segued into Time for a Change, as Tim displaced Eddie at the piano, and the others exited the stage.

Tim stuck around for a swampy, cello heavy rendition of Dirty Creature, which was probably about as funky as as the NZSO gets. That concluded the second set, but as always, the band were willing to perform an encore- this time "Stuff n' Nonsence" featuring Neil, Annie, Dave and Tim.

To bring the show full circle, and to a satisfying close, Six Months in a Leaky Boat was reprised, reinstated with Tim on Lead vocals and the rest of the vocalists on backup. At the conclusion the musicians left to a standing ovation.

It wasn't a Split Enz reunion, and it wasn't a classical concert- but something in between, and more, borne from the genius of Eddie Rayner. A wonderful experience all round, and a show not to be missed.

See ya Round

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