Craig Johnston        
Pantages Theater, Los Angeles, 1987

It is a balmy Friday night sometime in 1987. My mood is a mixture of nervous anticipation and bewilderment. I have just come from a particularly heinous marriage therapy session feeling totally bereft of joy.

Dragging my feet down Hollywood Boulevard, heading for the legendary Pantages Theater, I recalled my first wife had walked out during a Little Feat encore performance of Dixie Chicken. ‘It’s too loud,’ she cried. I knew immediately my marriage was destined for collapse.

Forget marriage therapy I thought as I made my way to the Crowded House concert: if you share similar tastes in music then that’s half the battle right there. A friend standing outside the theatre met me. She could see I needed some seriously good music.

That night in Los Angeles we saw a band solidify their reputation as one of the best live bands going. Not only did they back up the support act, ex Byrd Roger McGuinn, Neil Finn, Paul Hester, Nick Seymour and, on keyboards, Split Enz’s Eddie Rayner played an exhilarating set, consisting of memorable pop hooks, bits and pieces of obscure covers, and over the top, but hilarious buffoonery.

And, When You Come:

When you come across the sea
Me like a beacon guiding you to safety
The sooner the better now
And when you come the hills
Will breathe like a baby 
Pulled up heaving from the bottom of the ocean
The sooner the better now

With its ambiguous title and suggestive imagery the song dynamically builds layers of obsessiveness, desperation, and vulnerability until it ends in an explosive crescendo of guitar, bass and drums. What a beautiful noise.

I’ve heard many different versions of  When You Come. From the original studio version, a demo, various video versions from Youtube, official live versions and bootlegged copies of various quality. I’ve seen and heard Neil play with the lyrics, adding, subtracting, ad-libbing all over the place. After many listens some versions don’t sound as grand or powerful. Maybe the band is just going through the motions (or is that just Neil ?) but when Neil is trying, when he puts his whole heart into it, and then Paul Hester takes his cue and puts the song into top gear it is a thrilling musical journey.

My favorite live version comes from a 1991 performance in Edinburgh, Scotland. The surprise here is Mark Hart’s keyboards. His synths fill out the sound dynamically, but his hair-raising Hammond solo, where the guitar solo usually occurs, is breathtaking. That’s the only time I have heard that solo.

After the 1987 concert at Pantages Theatres my friend and I left the theatre smiling and upbeat. We wandered in to the Frolic Room giddily ordering drinks still buzzing from the music. Eventually we said goodnight and I trudged off happily in the rain on my own, not knowing we would marry two years later.

© Craig Johnston. Craig worked in the music department of a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Santa Monica, California for thirteen years. He has since returned to his hometown of Geelong in Australia.