The Pajama Club + Glass Towers – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (15/06/2011)

The opening act at The Corner this evening was Glass Towers, a Byron Bay four piece with an average age of eighteen years. The band, in a uniform of double denim, long hair and one Black Flag T-Shirt, were obviously, and understandably, pretty stoked at playing to such a large audience, and, although a little awkward in their stage presence, their delivery was tight and they held their own.

Musically the only indication of the band’s youth was the extent to which they wore their influences on their sleeves without putting their own imprint on it. Their sound is that of the ‘dance rock’ groups of the 2000s, such as We Are Scientists or The Killers, to such an extent that the vocalist used a strong American accent when singing. It is also one of the unfortunate sides of being a support act that this was clearly not their crowd, as the middle aged set looked on, politely bemused.

The curtains parted for the second half, revealing Neil Finn, arms outstretched, embracing the applause. To his right stood Sean Donnelly (AKA New Zealand performer SJD), positioned behind some keyboards, at the back sat Alanna Skyring, formerly drummer of The Grates, and to his left on bass guitar was Mrs. Sharon Finn, wife of. This was The Pajama Club.

Tonight presented an interesting paradox; the rare opportunity tonight to see Neil (let’s use first names from here on to avoid confusion) in a relatively intimate venue (The Corner’s capacity is 850), and at the same time this was only the band’s fourth show, and Sharon’s first ever band. In the press Neil has stated that they will not be performing any Crowded House or Split Enz songs as they are an entirely new enterprise, and yet here we were, a packed venue, waiting for our first impressions of a group whose album isn’t due until September.

As they dived into their first batch of tunes it became obvious that, although the playing was a little loose in patches, these were no Crowded House B-sides; the material was quite strong. The sound was at once familiar, with Neil Finn clearly being the leader and chief songwriter of the group, yet not fitting in with his normal brand of melodic pop.

Most of their songs were based around simple funk grooves with a particular 1980s electro feel, in the vein of Gary Numan, as strange as that sounds, who’s 1979 classic “Are Friends Electric” the band covered. Neil and Donnelly both added synth parts over the top of Sharon’s solid bass lines and in the majority of the songs Neil let rip with some psychedelic guitar pedal experimentation, of which anyone who saw his set at Meredith last year would know how fond he is.

Some of the songs stood out as being terrific, particular highlights being the ballad “Golden Child”, the straight pop of “T&T for Two” which evolved into a fantastically off-kilter folk-rock keys part from Neil. There were times, however, particularly towards the end of the set, where some of the songs seemed to be little more than psychedelic jams, thankfully overall this was not the case.

One pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a song that, according to Neil “we thought we could play, and that we should play, and so we will play”, being “Suffer Never”, from his collaboration with his brother Tim on the 1995 album Finn. The song, possibly more than anything that comes to mind from his back catalogue, fitted in perfectly with the rest of the set, its loose wailing guitar part helping to transition into the Numan cover.

It will be interesting to see what the future, if any, of this project shall be, as, based on tonight’s performance, the band seem to have invested enough into The Pajama Club to give it the feel of being more than merely a side project. It was also great to see someone who has been around as long as Neil Finn trying something a bit more experimental, without his ‘Crowded House’ hat on, although regretfully, and judging by the mostly 40-50-somethings that made up the crowd tonight, there may be a limit to the appeal this band has outside of those predisposed to like it.

After returning to the stage for a brief encore (they only have one album after all), Neil couldn’t quite kick the habit of a lifetime, and tried to involve everyone in a sing-a-long, which he just about succeeded in doing for a chorus or two. Not a bad effort, considering no one had ever heard the song before.

It was very enjoyable night by a new band still testing their legs, and a great opportunity to gain further insight into the creative works of one of pop music’s greatest songwriters.

Originally published on The AU Review on 27/06/2011. View original article.

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