‘I realize we’re in way different places because I’m a sophomore in college and you’ve become a pimp‘
When Craig Finn took the small stage at Larimer Lounge around 10pm for the last night of this leg of his tour, there was barely enough room for the man’s gigantic personality, much less the 4 piece band he brought with him. Opening the set with the opening track of his debut solo album, “Apollo Bay” proved this would not be an unplugged show like the one showcased on NPR. Finn recorded Clear Heart Full Eyes down in Austin, and when he decided to take the material on the road, he felt it would be best to bring a band of Austin musicians with him — with Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, Falcon Valdez on drums, James Stevens on guitar, Alex Livingstone on bass, and Craig Finn as the primary singer-songwriter, what you end up with is The Hold Steady if The Hold Steady was a country rock band from Texas. Those hoping for an intimate evening with Finn got what they came for; those hoping for a quiet sit-down set were probably disappointed. With the exception of a few tracks, when Finn gave Some Guns a break and went into acoustic storytelling mode, this was a loud ‘in-your-face’ display of country rock ‘n roll — and just like any Hold Steady show, the showman in Finn wasn’t going to allow anyone to leave hungry. Over the course of an hour and a half, he managed to perform the full album, 6 (criminally) unreleased tracks, a cover, and enough great stories and anecdotes to keep us talking until he makes his way back to Denver .
‘what surprises me about being on a social media network is how much it makes you hate your friends, because they all lie…it’s a managed presentation of yourself, it’s not quite honest…’
In a recent interview, Finn discussed the questions surrounding a 40 year old rock star. Essentially, how do you stay relevant as your journey leads you further and further away from those years when you used to party and drink and, well, act like a rock star? But for Finn, I don’t think this will be an issue. The flailing hands, the wide eyes, the trademarked mannerisms and the talking to himself in between each verse are what make Finn a presence — he has never looked like a rock star, and most of his lyrics are not autobiographical — he just has a gift for writing stories and an explosive way of projecting those stories from a stage. And last night he assured his fans that these gifts would not be muted or held back in any way, no matter what band was backing him up.
I have seen The Hold Steady countless times, they are literally one of my favorite live bands, but no matter how many small venues I have been seen ‘walking around and drinking some more’, I have never been as close to the stage as I was last night, therefore I had never noticed one aspect of Finn’s stage presence — he will make eye contact and not let go. You cannot look away. I gotta say I was a little uncomfortable at first, but then I found myself nodding my head in response, almost like I was at the bar with a buddy who was telling me a very intense story, “damn man, you caught her making out with some dude on the balcony when you went out for a smoke? really? what did you do Craig?” It’s this connection with the audience that makes Finn such a live force. Even if you can’t relate to everything he is saying, he is bound to hit a nerve quite a few times throughout the night — those times when you want to scream “get out of my head!” Looking around the room last night, at an audience ranging from early 20’s to late 50’s, solidified my argument that these stories are ageless in their appeal. No matter how old you get, you never forgot certain events, no matter how hard you might try.
‘you get to be an adult and you get really self-aware, you get to the point you know exactly what your problems are and you can’t do a goddamn thing about ‘em…and that to me is terrifying…’
The boys from Austin needed a name and Finn needed a theme song, so Some Guns became both. One of six unreleased songs that should have made the album — “Some Guns”, “Once You Roll Over”, “Dudes From St. Paul”, the very Hold Steady-esque “Sara, I’m Surrounded” and my personal favorite “Going To A Show”, all have me looking forward to another album (whether it be Hold Stead or otherwise). Almost every selection was prefaced by an explanation. Almost every explanation worth noting…
“Balcony” is about being at a party, going out for a smoke, and catching your girlfriend making out with another guy on the…balcony. Embracing Twitter and Facebook led to a hatred of lying friends which led to “When No One’s Watching”. “New Friend Jesus” might be changed to “New Friend Jay-Z” based on a friendly German suggestion. “Jeremiah’s Blues” is about Jeremiah, he’s got the blues. “Dudes From St. Paul” is about a friend who doesn’t tell you about the trouble he is in until you have been dragged into it as well. “Going To A Show” is about just that, it also includes the best lyrics since ‘started recreational, end kinda medical‘ with ‘had some friends who dabbled in drugs, had some friends who went pro’. “Honolulu Blues” is about going to Hawaii and realizing it’s not all paradise. Living with roommates and slamming brews might be fun in college, but when ‘you’re 35 and divorced, it fucking sucks‘ living in a “Rented Room”. And the scariest song of the night, “Terrified Eyes”, was written around the fact that when you get older you realize what your problems are, but also realize there isn’t a damn thing you can do about them.
The night could have ended on a somber note with the heartbreaking ballad to a doomed relationship “Not Much Left of Us”, but instead of ‘lying to each other‘ with an encore, the band went right into a cover of Bobby Charles’ “Save Me Jesus” — sending us into the cold Denver night full of stories to tell our friends who didn’t make it to the show.
Mount Moriah opened the night with a set of folk/country songs that can be credited with me getting through my first show without a drink in 15 years. They took the stage as I walked in the door and I was so caught up in their set that I forgot to grab a beer. By the time they finished, the small room had filled in behind me. Not wanting to give up my prime spot at the stage, I saved a few bucks by staying sober. The point is, check out Mount Moriah. Any band with a female singer channeling country music’s late greats, a drummer who can perform a full set with a fresh knife wound on his hand, and Jenks Miller (of Southern black metal band Horseback) as guitarist, is well worth your time.
Once You Roll Over (unreleased)
When No One’s Watching
Some Guns (unreleased)
New Friend Jesus
Sara, I’m Surrounded (unreleased)
Jeremiah’s Blues (unreleased)
Dudes From St. Paul (solo acoustic) (unreleased)
Going To A Show (solo acoustic) (unreleased)
Not Much Left of Us
Save Me Jesus(Bobby Charles cover)