Tim Finn – Civic Theatre: September 23, 2023

The Lives and Times Of Tim Finn concert tour came to Auckland’s Civic Theatre last night and The 13th Floor’s Robin Kearns was there. Here is his report.

I’m entering the enchanting warmth of the mighty Civic Theatre as the rain lashes Auckland (again). Remembering the first time I saw Tim Finn perform.

Nambassa Festival, January 1979. Fronting Split Enz. Their renditions of songs off Frenzy were electric in every way, alight with fired-up frustration at playing on borrowed instruments after losing gear in a fire. A massive 65,000 hippies on the hillside.

I’m finding seats with my son whose first-ever concert was two decades ago. A 13 year old dressed to look smart enough to get into the R18 Finn Brothers show at the St James. Living the dream of seeing his heroes.

Sitting under the Civic’s stars, I’m thinking everyone doubtless has stories connecting with Tim’s songs. Mental notes of song lines, memories of mad hair and harlequin outfits, adding true colour to our younger lives.

Two rows ahead, Neil and Sharon Finn squeeze past others to find their seats. Family, friends and fans. We’re in it together tonight for a walk down that road called memory lane.

Flip Grater

Tim FinnFirst up is Ōtautahi’s Flip Grater, at least as well-known for her café Grater Goods. We are served up exquisite songs. Marry Me invites us into a set replete with intimacy and relational detail. Adding harmonies and atmospherics on keyboards is Brooke Singer of French For Rabbits.  A lullaby written in new motherhood “when I remembered who I am again”. Smell of Strangers speaks of the dubious pleasures of long-distance flying.

It’s a challenge to draw in an amped up crowd, some of whom seemed intent on yelling rugby slogans but Flip wins. There’s an air of appreciative attentiveness. Songs of joy, songs of the trudge of domesticity. Wonderful.  A full show by these two in a smaller venue would be sublime.

Tim Finn 

There’s magic from the get-go as Tim walks onto the stage to join his band. He appears to trip, tripping the stage lights, and – in the brief darkness – admits it was ‘my mistake’, launching into the song of that name  from Split Enz’ 1977 album Dizrythmia.

Tim FinnWhat an opener. Songs like that changed everything, as did the band. They even changed Tim.  Brian Finn, as he was, along with other band members, changed to using his middle name. And so Tim Finn’s emerged.

And the band changed us. Along with Space Waltz, Split Enz offered something radical for the mid-70s in New Zealand:  not only original songs (rather than covers) and but also an other-worldly sensibility firmly pushing back against the grey school uniforms and muddy rugby fields of their high school experience.

It’s straight into the frenzy of I See Red with the scale of talent in the band on full display (the ever-present Brett Adams on lead guitar, Tony Buchen on bass, harmonica and piccolo,  Carlos Adura on drums and other percussion, Niall Anderson on keyboards, Carlo Babaro on flute and various saxophones, and …Elliott Finn, Tim’s daughter offering vocals)

Elliott hits high-notes on I Hope I Never. The father-daughter collaboration seems appropriate; any Neil or Tim Finn show in recent decades seems to be inclusively multi-generational, evoking family gatherings in Te Awamutu where the singing all began.

The songs follow that winding lane of memories for performer and audience alike: through the Enz repertoire and into Finn’s solo debut Escapade. From the dark wrestle with the inner demons of Dirty Creature into the funky breeziness of Fraction Too Much Friction. Tim stepping (dancing?) away from the Enz and into his string of solo releases. An exorcism of struggle through solo creative release maybe.

Career chapters continue. A bracket from the huge hit that was True Colours. Three songs from Wood Face, the Crowded House album in which Tim joined Neil’s band, a reversal of Neil joining Tim earlier in Split Enz. And back into the solo albums. A highlight was his plaintively reflective Richard Thompson co-write Persuasion off Before and After.

A retrospective is always a balance between being faithful to chronology and crowd. There are gaps in the setlist where I’d love to be hearing songs. None from two of his finest: 2001’s pulsing Feeding the Gods and 2008’s delicate The Conversation.

Maybe an artist chooses not to revisit albums that evoke difficult times. Or maybe it’s just a case of cherry-picking crowd-pleasers?

But no complaints from us in Row J. Tonight its Tim Finn, lately composer of soundtracks etc back on a big stage, filling the space with not just his voice and band …but also his quivering hands, his wild outstretched gestures, his near-demented shuffle, his jokes, his geniality.

The last song evokes both warmth and transience in Staring at the Embers. A night of being reminded that Tim Finn is truly a mighty totara of kiwi songwriting.

 Robin Kearns

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Tom Grut:
Flip Grater Setlist:

Marry me


Safety of the lights

Don’t sit around alone anymore

Exit sign

Smell of Strangers

While I’m awake I’m at war


Tim Finn Setlist:

My mistake

I see red

Stuff and nonsense

Poor boy

Nobody takes me seriously

Shark attack

I hope I never

Ghost girl

Six months in a leaky boat

Dirty creature

Fraction too much friction

Made my day


Chocolate cake

It’s only natural

Weather with you


Hard act to follow

Staring at the embers