No matter what Craig Finn may tell you about a unified scene, The Hold Steady comes at you in fragments.
Blame it on the sometimes sloppy, jangly old-school rock and roll riffs — unashamedly lifted straight from your dad’s collection of vinyl — the drunken sing-speak proclamations of Finn, or just the confusion over just what you’re watching; America’s biggest bar band throws the craziest fist-pumping house party in town.
Granted, it’d be a strange place thing to witness from the rafters, a seat, or just a spot on the balcony — boredom and misplaced analysis falls easy— but when you’re packed into the rolling, bouncing first rows of the 9:30 Club on a sloshing Sunday night, there’s no scene that I’d rather fall into.
Yes David, I know that you’ve run out of words, and DC Rock Club, you felt like Finn and D.C. seemed tired on that Sunday night, but for those people whose schedules just never found a place for the live rants of Finn and those who were willing to dance this off night seemed to be still turned on.
After a forgettable little opening act, Finn shambled out onto the stage, whispered something about feeling historic, broke into the droning 20th century-retrospective of “Positive Jam,” for all the “sniffling little indie kids,” and then the crowd was ready to sing.
It doesn’t come every night, but from the first “Whoa oh oh’s” of “Massive Nights,” Finn competed against row after row of wide-eyed kids, ready to sweat and spit the words to every single song. In some type of strange sanctuary, Finn had the crowd confessing his words back to him in a vicious prayer that kept the kids bouncing, swaying, and pushing their way throughout the night.
There wasn’t anything mind numbingly out of the ordinary, performance wise, from The Hold Steady. The group works hard and well together, but with the exception of the always juiced Finn, they seemed a little on the low key. Tiredness, or maybe just sobriety, you can blame the beer of choice (Sol) for that one. It wasn’t like the music suffered, levels were surprisingly on, and the band rolled in a brawny and polished little bit of musicianship that saw them pulling tracks from all four albums, (even Hostile, Mass.), and highlighting the bigger side of their sound.
It was a victory lap of sorts, and even if the Hold Steady were a little tired making it around the track the crowd seemed more than ready to carry the band all the way. It’s easy when you’re being told that this is your reminder, “that we can all be something, bigger,” and you’re being sent on a hook-ridden ride that demands you to get your fists into the air.
The night went predictably, but no one on the floor really cared. “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” was just as biting as you could have hoped, “Southtown Girls” turned the crowd into an echoing choir, and “Stuck Between Stations” saw the crowd sliding from one side of the room to another, in a mosh-mixed sort of sway, screaming the words in each others faces with huge grins stretching across their faces.
It wasn’t a D.C. crowd.
By the time that Finn came to “Killer Parties,” and his standard benediction, the entire crowd was ready to scream that, “there is so much joy in what we do,” and no one really cared if he had said it last night, and the night before, and the seven months before that—it’s where you were on Sunday.
The Hold Steady experience comes in against the force, of the broken heart bad spring blues, a generation groomed on cynicism, and all the frustration and anger of living in a time where job applications overflow, rent stays high, and political disbelief is just a way of life. Finn’s a storytelling prophet — confused enough to be honest, but old enough to contextualize, and in his fast shaking hands, a communal burning bush experience comes into the club.
But this story gets told too much.
Contextualizing, deifying, exaltation-dancing prose runs easy and rings shallow, but walking out of a show like the one that took place Sunday at the 9:30 Club makes you want to say something more than, “After opening with ____, the ____ showed the sold out crowd the type of neo-classical post-punk roots that have sent their latest album ___ to the front of early “best of” lists.”
You want to place the boys from Brooklyn/Minneapolis within the chapters of the greater music story, because for many of us the stories of Holly, Charlemagne and all the sad little boys and girls of America have rang far too true for the last years of our lives. Finn’s lines have been shouted through fuzzy-brained morning after morning, driving down the road after a night only remembered in cracked fragments and broken synapses, hands flapping around like some type of acid-tripping refugee, pronouncing judgments upon the car and passerby’s with ultimate truth and authority. We know they’re a little off, a little flawed, that he can’t really sing, but we don’t really care. We know they’ve been using the same material for awhile, we know they’ve got the live routine down, but we really don’t care.We’re flawed little confused creatures, and we’ll hold onto our flawed little rock stars.
Maybe it won’t always be this way, for right now, few scenes are more fun to celebrate.