One Step Ahead Live Solo

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I heard “Poor Boy” on SXM the other night. I’d say it stopped me in my tracks, but I was driving east on Sunset just past Bundy, and it made me feel so good, it connected me with what once was and today.

Split Enz have been forgotten. However Crowded House has been remembered. I always preferred Split Enz, even though I saw Crowded House at Club Lingerie (and Split Enz at the Whisky!)

So I’m lying on the couch trying to entertain myself. I can’t slow myself down enough to watch a movie or TV series, so I start reading the news, then the magazines on my iPad, not that they’re resonating, I’m reading the news the whole damn day, so I pulled up “Avalon” to listen in hi-res on Amazon Music. And it sounded so good.

And I’m thinking how “Avalon” was a commercial stiff upon release in the U.S. How it took years to gain consciousness in the consumer mind. Then it was a staple, the ultimate soft rock staple if you ask me, even though it’s not so soft. For a long time my favorite has been the second side opener, “The Main Thing.” But today I got hooked on “To Turn You On.” Listen to that on headphones, you’ll think you’re off Broadway after dark loving the view.

And now I’m thinking how the purpose of an album used to be different.

First and foremost, they were short, Forty minutes was long. They were easily digested. But the goal was different. It was to lay down your statement. Sure, you wanted to exit the studio with one radio track, but the greats never cottoned to commercialism. Now it’s all commercialism. Except when practiced by those with no hope of commercialism. Today’s music is just one step away, whereas the great records of yore are hermetically sealed, they exist in a parallel universe that you can only visit, only understand if you listen to them.

And in addition to being shorter, there were so many fewer albums. But the paradigm was different, you had to buy them, you didn’t get all the music for ten bucks a month. So, inherently you owned few. You’d go to a friend’s house and see that album you were curious about, that you wanted to hear, and insist they drop the needle immediately, you couldn’t wait. Also, you went to a friend’s house, especially a new one, and saw the same relatively obscure album you owned and you felt connected, part of a substratum not recognized by the mainstream, but powerful nonetheless.

That’s how I felt when I went to this woman’s apartment and she had “Waiata,” the first Split Enz album after the breakthrough, “True Colours.”

There’d been a skein of albums before this, on Chrysalis, right? I bought ’em as promos at Rhino Records. Can’t say that I played them much, but I played “True Colours” incessantly! (And note, I’d purchased three Split Enz albums BEFORE I purchased “True Colours.”)

You see it was “I Got You.” I heard it on KROQ.

Suddenly, the band was firing on all cylinders.

It’s hard to describe a record like “I Got You” today, a band like Split Enz. Because in addition to being from New Zealand, they were not dead center in the game. “I Got You” didn’t strike you in the face, it didn’t make you pay attention, rather it contained an indescribable magic that drew you to it, that made you buy the album.

On A&M in the States. With a laser-etched disc. Yes, you didn’t have to be a platinum act to get a special package, that was part of the sale pitch, even though I never ever bought an album based on the cover, or the disc itself, who would do that?

So “True Colours” became one of my favorite albums. Maybe it was so good because Neil Finn was now fully integrated in the band, a rival to his brother Tim. But Tim did write the second side delectables, “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” and “Poor Boy,” absolute killers that sounded like nothing else but nailed you to the ground nonetheless. You see this was the goal, to go on your own hejira and have the public come to you, it’s the same thing that happened with “Avalon.”

Now my favorite Split Enz track is contained on the 1983 album “Conflicting Emotions,” which was a disappointment overall. But “Message to My Girl”? One of the most majestic cuts of all time. As great as the original studio take is, the one with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is TRANSCENDENT! I got it on Napster, wrote about it twenty-odd years ago, and now through the magic of YouTube you can hear it too. There’s a whole documentary intro, but the music starts just shy of a minute in, if you’re a fan of the song, and you know who you are, you must hear/see this:

But today I was playing “True Colours,” and I got stuck on “Poor Boy” but I eventually decided to slip into “Waiata.”

“Waiata” was not as good as “True Colours.” The song on KROQ was “History Never Repeats,” a Neil Finn banger that is really quite palatable, and ultimately memorable, and it got a lot of airplay.

But the other big song from “Waiata,” which I don’t remember listening to in years, was “One Step Ahead.”

And now I’m deep into Split Enz, surfing the web, trying to find out things I don’t already know. And what I do find out is there are live albums, but they’re not on streaming services, and this is disappointing. But, I think, there have been so many iterations of the “band.” Maybe there’s some live work under Neil Finn’s name.

So I go to Wikipedia and I find this album released in 2020. It’s entitled “Solo at the Seymour Centre, 2010.”

Now let me see… A ten year old solo concert released ten years later? How good could this be?

Then again, this is what is amazing in the twenty first century, the unearthing of all this live product that we would have salivated over in the pre-internet era that is released without a trace, that you only hear if you stumble upon it.

Now most of these solo concert records are acoustic, a facsimile of the original, for fans only, and usually not to be listened to that many times, so my expectations were low. So I look at the track listing and decide to play “One Step Ahead.”

First and foremost he’s playing an ELECTRIC GUITAR! Nobody does that solo. And there’s this ethereal intro and then Neil starts to sing and I’M FLOORED! I’m tingling writing about it right now. This is so amazing!

Now Neil Finn has gotten a victory lap as a member of the reconstituted Fleetwood Mac. But shy of that, he’s a journeyman. In the rearview mirror in popular music, not a streaming giant. But I’m listening to this live version of “One Step Ahead” and it’s light years ahead of the Spotify Top 50, it evidences a humanity that they do not. And unlike too many vaunted artists today, great players, Neil Finn can write, being able to play is not enough.

It’s the mood. The sound and the lyrics. You can feel nascent love, after the initial infatuation phase, when either you hang on for the ride or absent yourself, unwilling to ride the roller coaster, and it’s always bumpy at this stage, up and down.

Earlier I’d been thinking how all the music I was infatuated with was fading, people say it’s just a matter of age, that today’s music is just as good and important to the younger generation.


I’m lying on the couch listening to Split Enz and Neil Finn and I start to realize this is how it used to be. Just me and the music. Having the record spin, listening to it, was enough activity for an afternoon, studying the album cover, memorizing the credits, even though you didn’t realize you were doing that. Life was slower, there were fewer distractions. And we knew we were only home for a while anyway, we were going to go out that night, to a club, to a movie, to a friend’s house, being home alone all day was death.

Today you listen to music while you’re doing something else, maybe many things. Music is mostly background. Life moves too fast to slow down and smell the roses, never mind listen to the music.

It’s forty years ago, but Neil Finn is still one step ahead.

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