I’ve never been very good at meditation. I just can’t stop the hamster in my head from running around in its crazy ball, flipping and turning in random directions at high speed. The closest I come is when I listen to music that reaches into my soul and transforms me, however temporarily, into a simple carrier for the beat.
Two of the musicians whose songs always have that effect on me came together tonight for an utterly astonishing concert. Neil Finn and Paul Kelly took the traumatic cacophony of my life and stilled it with a chord. For two and a half hours I was the music. As the bass bloomed in my body the beat was my heart, amplified to fill the entire theatre. I was in the audience, singing my heart out. I was on the stage, being the band.
The combination of Neil and Paul was transcendent. There was not a song in the set list that I didn’t know like the sound of my own breathing, and yet each piece was electrifying in its difference. To take a rich and powerful song and morph its very soul into something new and startling – familiar as a lover’s touch, yet as shocking as a stranger – is a miraculous gift.
At first they took turns – one Paul Kelly song, followed by one Neil Finn – but as the night went on the lines blurred and swirled, and when Paul Kelly sang Into Temptation it had always been his and his alone. Each song was a unique whole, and it didn’t matter whether it belonged to Neil Kelly or Paul Finn, it belonged here and now, just like this.
It’s strange to think that these two men, who have transformed my life not once, but repeatedly, are complete strangers. It feels somehow disrespectful to use their first names, but they are too familiar to be Mr Finn and Mr Kelly. Neil with his trademark fringe, and Paul with his hat, have stopped and restarted my heart more times than I can count without us ever having met.
The whole band were clearly having a wonderful time on stage. They gave each other a robustly hard time, as only good friends can do, and the real magic was that having created this intimacy they brought the audience in to share it. Several thousand of us felt a unique part of this warmth, this humour and this ecstatic music. We sang Leaps and Bounds with gusto. We gave Don’t Dream it’s Over everything we had. When Neil said we did good, we glowed.
When the end came and the band left the stage it was sudden and shocking. After two and a half hours it felt as though we had been there forever, and yet for no time at all. For those two and a half hours life was at bay, and music was everything. When I get up early tomorrow to teach my first class of the day I will be exhausted, but still singing in my heart.