Going all the way back his days in Split Enz, Neil Finn has always found a welcoming audience in Canada (that group’s True Colours was a Top Ten hit here and Time and Tide reached No. 4), and last Saturday in Toronto was no exception. Armed with an embarrassment of riches of pop masterpieces as well as an excellent new album–the sonically daring, Dave Fridmann-produced Dizzy Heights–Finn quickly set the stage for a night that spanned all major phases of his career and could easily have doubled as a masterclass in songwriting.

Backed by a skillful six-piece band, Finn opened with two Dizzy Heights songs and moved back and forth throughout his back catalog over the next two-and-a-half hours, even making room in the setlist for unjustly overlooked gems from the Finn Brothers (“Only Making Sense”, the opening track from 1995’s Finn) and Pajama Club (the stormy psychedelia of “From A Friend to A Friend”) projects. Live, the songs from Dizzy Heights gained a new immediacy and blended surprisingly seamlessly with the nervous, angular pop of Split Enz and Crowded House’s elegant melodies–”Recluse” in particular boasts as memorable a hook as Finn’s ever penned, and “Pony Ride” did not sound out of place alongside classics from both of those bands in the first encore.

At the heart of the main set was a trio of subtly re-arranged songs performed by Finn on piano with occasional help on backing vocals from Lisa Tomlinson and guitarist Jesse Sheehan–the beautiful, longing “Message to My Girl”, the moving “I Feel Possessed”, and a revitalized “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. Tomlinson was also the MVP on an extraordinary rendition of “Sinner”, as her showstopping Merry Clayton-like vocal gave the song an added gospel fervor and brought the audience to their feet.

At the end of a second encore that featured an impromptu performance (by audience request) of beloved Crowded House rarity “Lester” as well as an unusually enthusiastic Toronto crowd assisting a solo Finn by mimicking the electric guitar part in “Pineapple Head” and the drums in “Private Universe”, someone shouted back, “Don’t end it, then!” when Finn sang “It would cause me pain/if I were to end it” in the closing “Better Be Home Soon”. Even after 29 songs and 150 minutes of music, it is unlikely that anyone in the room would have objected had he chosen to keep a magical night going a little bit longer.

Avowed Finn fans Midlake opened the show with a harmony-heavy half-hour set that emphasized the folkier corners of their sound. Reduced to a trio for this tour–frontman Eric Pulido repeatedly quipped that while Midlake was normally “six strong”, Midlake (Acoustic) was not “three weak”–the group easily won over the audience with CSNY- and Fleetwood Mac-influenced songs and cheerful banter, closing with a gorgeous cover the Band’s “I Shall Be Released”.

SETLIST:

Impressions

Flying in the Face of Love

One Step Ahead (Split Enz)

Distant Sun (Crowded House)

Dizzy Heights

Anytime

Driving Me Mad

Better Than TV

Recluse

Only Talking Sense (Finn Brothers)

From a Friend to a Friend (Pajama Club)

Sinner

History Never Repeats (Split Enz)

Weather With You (Crowded House)

White Lies and Alibis

Message to My Girl (Split Enz)

I Feel Possessed (Crowded House)

Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House)

Strangest Friends

She Will Have Her Way

ENCORE 1

Pony Ride

I Got You (Split Enz)

Locked Out (Crowded House)

Fall at Your Feet (Crowded House)

ENCORE 2

Pineapple Head (Crowded House)

Private Universe (Crowded House)

Lester (Crowded House)

Love This Life (Crowded House)

Better Be Home Soon (Crowded House)