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SWAGGER, NOT STYLE

The worldwide headquarters and hindquarters of freelance writer Chris Klimek

Everything Is Good for You: Crowded House at the 9:30

Chris Klimek

We Wear Suits at the Beach: Mark Hart, Matt Sherrod, Nick Seymour, and Neil Finn.

Crowded House were the headliner and the conditions at the 9:30 Club Friday night, and the group deserves nothing less. Reconvened last year after splitting up at the peak of their powers in 1996, they’ve got everything you could want in a band: An embarrassment of superb material, a charismatic frontman, a set list that’s rewritten nightly, a tolerance for — nay, encouragement of — spontaneity, and (most importantly) that palpable love of performing that can’t be faked. Led by Neil Finn (rightly revered as a songwriter of Lennonesque lyrical gifts and McCartneyesqe melodic gifts; seriously underrated as a singer and guitarist), Crowded House overcome every obstacle with grace, from the devastating (the 2005 suicide of ex- drummer Paul Hester) to the merely annoying (the impudence of some of their own alleged fans, who welcomed the band to their first DC gig in more than a decade by yapping throughout the 130-minute concert).

Happily, the reverent outnumbered the rude: “You’re in very fine voice tonight, Washington,” Finn gushed, deputizing 1,200 backup singers to fill out the soaring “World Where You Live.”

The 23-song set was characteristically generous and unpredictable. Five new tunes (“Isolation” and “Twice If You’re Lucky” were introduced by name) suggested a more upbeat direction after last year’s mournful Time on Earth album. Largely inspired by Hester’s death, it was ignored save for “English Trees,” a number every bit as exciting as it sounds. They can’t all be Finn-tastic, apparently.

The lengthy second encore brought an improvised composition, and a rarity (“Mansion in the Slums”) Finn declared they hadn’t played in “at least 20 years.” But naturally, the emphasis was on the group’s 1986-96 back catalogue, as fine as any from that era. “Locked Out” rocked out, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” had everyone clutching their better half a little tighter, and for the buoyant “Weather With You,” Finn actually divided the audience and got us to sing two-part harmony. Leave it to this ever-affable Kiwi to bring order to a roomful of surly Yanks.

A slightly different version of this review is published in today's Paper of Record.

Crowded House at the 9:30 Club, Friday, May 2, 2008

The Setlist

01 Everthing Is Good for You

02 World Where You Live

03 Isolation (new song)

04 (new song; no title given)

05 Distant Sun

06 Whispers and Moans

07 (new song “about how life unfolds as a movie;” Neil plays piano on this one)

08 (new song — “Other Side of the World”?)

09 English Trees

10 Nails in My Feet

11 Don’t Dream It’s Over

12 Four Seasons in One Day

13 Twice If You’re Lucky (new song)

14 Weather with You

    ENCORE 1

15 Locked Out

16 Something So Strong

17 Private Universe

    ENCORE 2

18 Into Temptation

19 Pineapple Head

20 Spontaneous Washington DC Composition

21 Manson in the Slums

22 She Goes On

23 Better Be Home Soon

The Band

Matt Sherrod - drums

Mark Hart - keyboard, lap steel, guitar, vocals

Nick Seymour - bass, vocals

Neil Finn - lead vocal, lead guitar