Sometimes even background music can reveal great truths. So it was at last Saturday's Finn Brothers show at the FleetBoston Pavilion when the P.A. blasted the greatest hits of the Fixx between acts. With its nervous New Wave energy, unshakable catchiness, and ultimate disposability, it seemed to say, "There but for the grace of God go Neil and Tim Finn." With their first band, Split Enz, the brothers might very well have become early '80s curios themselves, but through a combination of talent, historical importance (Split Enz is revered in New Zealand as that country's first major rock band on the world stage), perseverance, and luck, the Finns successfully avoided that fate. Fully half the songs last Saturday came from the two albums credited to the Finn Brothers, including seven from "Everyone Is Here" (slated for release Aug. 24 on Nettwerk).
The evening centered on fraternal collaboration, with "Angel's Heap" and the opening "Weather With You" featuring the brothers singing together in place of a single lead vocal, while the new "A Life Between Us" was a soulful shuffle with traded verses. The set list avoided anything the Finns didn't record together. That leveled the playing field, preventing Neil's audience-pleasing Crowded House material from overshadowing Tim's lesser-known solo gems such as "Persuasion."
The audience warmed to the new material quickly, rising to their feet at the end of "Won't Give In." They went craziest for the Split Enz and Crowded House material, though, especially during Neil's guitar solos over the extended codas for "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" and "It's Only Natural." For his part, Tim added a touch of Split Enz theatricality to "Dirty Creature," which at one point saw him doing part of a Maori war dance.
Their brotherly dynamic was also apparent between songs. They occasionally completed each other's stories, and older brother Tim even admonished Neil with a sharp but good-natured "Hold on, Capo!" when Neil began playing "I Got You" in the wrong key. The closing "Better Be Home Soon," from Crowded House's Tim-free "Temple of Low Men," broke the joint-material rule, but the audience was too busy singing along to the final chorus for it to matter much.
Martin Sexton may have nominally been a warmup act, but with a 75-minute set capped by two encores, he certainly wasn't treated like one by the crowd. Sexton was armed only with an acoustic guitar; his voice and persona suggested a less aggressive Jack Black reborn as a singer-songwriter. He quoted other people's songs seemingly at random, beatboxed while using his guitar like a drum machine, and vocalized into a heavily distorted microphone to approximate the sound of a guitar solo.
Opener Angela McCluskey's Macy-Gray-meets-Marianne-Faithfull voice and slightly loopy but endearing stage presence won the sparse early audience over to her rootsy pop. After one song finished, someone yelled, "Hey, lady, that was all right!," and most of the assembled crowd seemed to agree.