Liam Finn is (Still) Electric – The Larimer Lounge

Liam Finn released his second album, FOMO on June 21st, a full three years after his breakout solo album, I’ll Be Lightning. One thing is for sure – though the album title is less obviously evocative, Liam Finn’s live show, and the new music, continues to electrify. On a recent swing through Denver in the midst of an international tour (including his native New Zealand), Liam played the Larimer Lounge, bringing his folk rock to the stage with his trademark joie de vivre and talent to spare.

The show started off with the layered folk choruses of “I’ll Be Lightening,” the title track of Liam’s 2008 album that put him on the map with audiences and critics alike. The song is pure Liam Finn: choruses building to a literal crescendo of energy, instruments, and voices. Given the slightly light crowd at the start of the night, the Larimer’s layout was an asset on this Tuesday evening. With a visually separated area for the bar and the stage, the room didn’t feel too big or too sparse, and there was a palpable energy in the room once Liam and the band took the stage. It’s also impossible not to mention Marques Tolliver, whose clear, emotive voice and R&B infused violin opened the show.  Lucky for us, he joined Liam and the band for the last few songs.

Liam’s songs (and his live show) ride the line of experimentalism just long enough to get the audience feeling amped that we get to ride the wave, but never lost wondering which current is going to sweep us along next: a much more unique balance than it may seem. The music is anchored despite taking chances, and this is a brave quality to continue with on a sophomore album. The night was a mix between Liam’s two solo albums. The tracks from FOMO feel tighter and a little less brash than those from I’ll Be Lightning, although it may just be hindsight that makes the first album sound like a horse out of the gates, in the best possible way. This slight departure was immediately evident in “Cold Feet,” with its escalating chorus softened by synth keyboards, adding a slightly lush electronic layer to the song, a dream-pop softness that hints at Brian Wilson.  Songs from both albums have moments that bring to mind the Beatles, simple melodies backed up with looped vocals and instruments that add a little funk to the experience.

The average hipster probably may not, in theory, love electric guitar solos and slamming drums, if only due to a hesitation to listen to anything remotely reminiscent of 80’s hair rock. At a Liam Finn show, these preconceptions will be mightily challenged.  The pulsating, frenetic energy of watching him literally jump behind the drum kit, to the theramin, to any one of a lineup of guitars, is infectious. There’s a boyish sense of revelry in Liam’s performance and an unbridled physical enthusiasm as he rocks each instrument. You can imagine a bright eyed seven-year-old Liam saying, “Mum, I want to play the drums AND the guitar!” and then, with a delightful sense of surprise, discovering he is stellar at both.  This is why you should go see Liam Finn: because in a seemingly effortless multi-talented fashion, he will rock your socks off.

The Larimer is one of those venues that will always pop up in conversation in the following context: “Oh, I saw [insert band name who has completely blown up, i.e. Arcade Fire] at the LL a couple of years ago. It was awesome.” Notably, Liam Finn has come off of tours with Eddie Vedder and The Black Keys, but still gets to play the smaller club circuit. This is an absolute bonus, and there is no doubt that Liam’s fan base will continue to grow. Being able to bask for an hour or two in the pure enthusiastic glow of a Liam Finn show is a privilege, especially at a smaller venue like the Larimer – and it guarantees that you will tell the story later.