A “Ferry Crowded House” at Festival d'Été

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Photo: Jay Ouellet

Simon Le Bon, lead singer of the pop group Duran Duran.

There was a certain familiarity to Neil Finn's stage manner, when the lead singer of the Australian/New Zealand group Crowded House opened the night’s performances on Friday, July 15, on the Bell Stage. Indeed, it was a Finn family affair, including his wife Sharon on bass guitar and sons Elroy (drums) and Liam (guitar).

New Zealander Neil and son Liam exchanged typical Kiwi banter. Pointing to an area in the crowd, Neil said, “The hard-core Duran Duran fans are down there.” Liam retorted, “No, Dad, that's my fan club.They have to show a Liam Finn pass.”

In a commendable gesture to the host city, Neil Finn opened in French with, “Bonsoir les amis!” 

Halfway through the set, Neil called out to one of the drink vendors passing the stage, “Hey you, Mr. Beer. Can you give me one? I want to toast the audience.” Mr. Beer looked like a stunned fish for a minute while he computed whether the request was legitimate. Then, obligingly, he tossed a can of beer up on stage.

The ensemble played Crowded House and Split Enz songs including “Message” and “I got you,” hits from the album Mental Notes which were reworked by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. 

“Who saw Split Enz play here [in 1976]?” Neil asked the crowd. “Good, some of us are still alive then. It was a good night here in Quebec.”

Neil instructed the crew to pack up their gear while he sang “Better Be Home Soon.” He stretched out the last line of the song, taking the time to dismantle his microphone, preparing the stage for Roxy Music's lead singer Bryan Ferry. 

The stage was blasting again with music shortly before 8.05 p.m. With no introduction, Bryan Ferry appeared on stage dressed completely in black, in dynamic contrast with his salt and pepper hair and piercing blue eyes. 

Only after his second song, “Slave to Love,” did Ferry speak to the crowd (he said “thank you” twice). In fact, with his great poker face, he made very little effort to engage verbally with the audience. Ferry's performance, however, was impeccable. The quality of sound, his clear and clean vocals, the “fit” of his band, the range of instruments on stage – drums, guitars, keyboard, violin and saxophone – made for an impressive show. Ferry himself played the keyboard for “Ladytron” and later, remarkably, he whistled a tune at the end of “Jealous Guy.”

Finally British pop sensation Duran Duran took to the stage which was crackling with thunder-and-lightning visual effects while a video of the band was projected on a screen.

With the bass vibrating and Simon Le Bon's good pitch, it was a powerful start.  “Paper Gods,” from their 2015 album with the same title, was first on the playlist. Le Bon then announced that keyboard player Nick Rhodes needed to return to London, and they would be playing without him. “Anyway,” said Le Bon, “anyone like to get a little bit more?”

The mood was fun, high energy. With clothing that belied his age, 57-year-old Le Bon wore tight white jeans, a black-and-white leather jacket and black-and-white high-top shoes. 

A perfect note was struck however, when Le Bon paid homage to the victims of the terror attack in Nice. “It has been a great night, but we can't forget what happened last night.” He then asked everyone to take out their phones and put the light on. “Let's use music to heal each other. We'll make the stars come out in the world; make it a bit lighter and brighter too.” And for the next five minutes, at least, it was.