Saturday, February 11, 2012

40 Bucks and My Favorite Band

It wasn’t my favorite band, strictly speaking, but Craig Finn is about four fifths of The Hold Steady. And PJ’s Lager house in Detroit may not have been the Nice Nice, but they were only charging ten dollars for cover. So call it 80 percent of my favorite band at 25 percent the price. Either way, I had to go see Finn play Wednesday night because a.) he’s awesome, b.) he just released his first solo album (“Clear Heart Full Eyes”), and c.) it gave me an excuse to get some pretty sweet barbecue. At first I was worried that he would find himself lost without his buddy Tad Kubler. It’s a funny bit of chemistry when a lead singer sets out on his/her own. But hell, if Stevie Nix could do it, there’s no reason Craig Finn can’t. Over 2 hours, Finn showed he could distance himself from his old bands and still evoke that joy, chaos, and fear that marked previous THS and Lifter Puller (another former group) releases. 

The dance floor was crowded and the bathrooms were worse as Finn came on with his 4 piece backing band and a Corona Light.* The opener, “Apollo Bay,” was haunting and dreamy with plenty of slide guitar, but underwhelming for me. I spent most of the first 3 minutes trying to figure out who the guitar player looked like and whether the slide guitarist was homeless.**

*I hope that’s because it is easier on the vocal cords. Later on, he got what I can only assume was a double whiskey, coke, no ice so I’ll let it slide.

**Answers: Ari Gold/Jeremy Piven and no, he wasn’t homeless, but his name was Ricky Ray.

However, my indifference faded quickly as Finn picked up steam. “Balcony” was one of those clever story-songs Finn became known for with THS, but infused with the melancholy that runs throughout CHFE. “Jackson” felt rowdy and driving, sprinkled liberally with slide guitar. In fact, most of these songs featured a lot of slide guitar – so much so that I started to wonder if the steel in “Sweet Part of the City” was more Finn’s idea than Kubler’s. “Some Guns,” the song that inspired the backing group’s name, was another rousing number that would have perfectly captured the collective political leanings of Finn’s lyrics if they had any. “They call it a revolution/To me it’s just some guys that got some guns.” Now lets go party.

All along the way there was plenty of vintage Finn. Those bulging eyes and herky-jerky gestures that define his THS shows were on full display. With a Mike Shanahan-level red face and spit flying from his mouth, he still looked every bit like the English teacher you had in high school that would get really into Hamlet. As always, it was clear he liked the lights on stage, and if you listened close, you could even catch references to old haunts like the back half of the theater or Tennessee*.

*No mention of Ybor City though.

Through it all, Finn kept a running dialog with the crowd. When someone answered his rhetorical question “I don’t know what’s east of here/I came up on the western pier,” he good-naturedly pointed out that that particular line had drawn a similar response at every other stop, too. “I guess I set myself up for it.” In the shadow of the old Navin Field flagpole, Finn (a Twins fan) took a break to ask the crowd about the upcoming AL Central race. Lamenting the loss of former Twin Delmon Young (who had a great Fall with the Tigers), Finn said it hurts “right here,” tapping his chest. Makes sense.

The set got soft in the center but picked back up with “Going to a Show.” Although the name sounds like a 93XRT segment, it was another clever, somber ballad in the same vein as “Balcony.” From there, Finn and company finished strong, winding down with “Honolulu Blues,” “Once You Roll Over,” and “Terrified Eyes.” The last two songs in particular sounded like they could have only worked outside of the confines of THS. The set finally closed with “Not Much Left of Us” – a sad slow waltz that left more than a hint of despair lingering at the end.

Finn’s solo effort is substantially different from his previous work, but still showcases the qualities that make him such a unique musician in the first place. While most THS songs invoked massive nights – booze, parties, the works – CHFE felt like a morning after reflection. College has to end some time and it seems like Craig Finn has reached that same conclusion. Even if CHFE is Finn all grown up, it’s still a pretty positive jam.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil.