Growing up, and often travelling with their family in the backseat of the car on summer holidays and listening to music, sisters Erin & Tess Fowler, of Adelaide band Sitara, had the perfect opportunity to intimately learn the songs of Crowded House. As they informed us during their Fringe show, Fowler & Finn: A Tribute to Crowded House, it was Neil Finn’s music that dominated the car stereo on those happy road trips every year.
It seems apt then that the two Fowler sisters should be drawn to this music so strongly as much of it also had its original gestation in the similarly supportive Finn family environment during Neil Finn’s formative years in Teasdale Street, Te Awamutu.
Tuesday night’s show had been hastily rescheduled from its original date because Tess had suddenly been called to Alice Springs to play a role in a new Netflix series. The resultant break in preparation for the show, whilst obviously necessary to allow Tess to take up this terrific opportunity, did seem to have taken its toll. The performance started late after the band performed a hurried soundcheck, and then, throughout the show on a number of occasions, the songs came across as a little under-rehearsed.
Both Erin and Tess have appealing qualities to their voices when singing individually, but, together, their harmonies did not gel, which meant some of the renditions of these songs from the classic Crowded House songbook lost their key appeal – the addictively sweet, and seemingly effortless, melodies that Neil Finn is most famous for.
The band bravely created their own arrangements for a number of these songs but only occasionally did these really work. These songs and their nuances are so deeply etched into the psyche of all pop music fans, that any deviation from their core melodic lines sets the listener on edge. The satisfaction for the listener comes in the recognition of key harmonic markers, not through deliberate alienation from the heart of the tune.
Erin Fowler, in particular, whilst actually the stronger of the two main voices, over-complicated too many songs by often ‘note-bending’ needlessly, making it nigh on impossible for Tess and Dom Syme’s harmony vocals to subsequently find the appropriate pitch and key to work effectively in counterpoint. One crucial aspect of the beauty of Crowded House songs is their simple and pure vocal lines, and these were tampered with to the detriment of the song too often during this performance.
Usually, only the most confident and audacious performers are successful in undertaking such radical re-workings of well-established standards like these – and tonight both sisters seemed a little too self-conscious and uncomfortable on stage to be able to really sell their new interpretations convincingly to the full house in attendance.
The band too, started off in competition with the singers, initially drowning out the vocalists, but they soon settled down into a more complimentary supportive mode. Symes, on vocals and keyboards, grounded a number of the songs when they were threatening to morph into something unrecognisable as a Finn tune, and guitarist Tom Kneebone played some subtle guitar, displaying great sensitivity to the core material. The rhythm section of Jackson Write and Oscar Westell were, after a very loud start, solid and unobtrusive.
The song selection in the show provides a crowd-pleasing cross-section of the very best tunes that Crowded House recorded, and with a more balanced sound mix and a more confident, relaxed and controlled approach to the performance, the Fowler Sisters do have the voices to make these songs work for them.
These obviously talented siblings have one more show to play during this year’s Fringe, and now, given an extra, distraction-free week to get the songs into better shape, there is every chance their next show will be much more successful than this one.
Rating: 2 stars
Fowler & Finn: A Tribute to Crowded House will again be performed at The Mill Performance Space, The Mill, 154 Angas Street at 8:00pm on March 13.
Tickets available from: Fowler & Finn tickets