Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stay positive

The songs of The Hold Steady are about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, yet seeing them in concert tonight felt more like attending a church revival. The crowd was shouting out Craig Finn's lyrics in sync with the lead singer as though following congregational readings from the bulletin. ("The sing-along songs will be our Scriptures" indeed.)

Finn's rousing performance was suffused with joy and a connection to the audience, the likes of which you'd expect from a preacher in a tent trying to whip the attendees into a frenzy and save souls. There were calls and responses and mirroring of Finn's motions. I would not have been surprised if one guy near me had started speaking in tongues. He was that into it, and he wasn't alone. Not to be overly clever, but one could claim The Hold Steady put on a charismatic performance in general and religious terms.

To be sure, this religious-like fervor doesn't emerge out of the blue. Catholicism recurs throughout Finn's writing, as does the redemptive power of music and communion with fellow rockers. ("Heaven is whenever we can get together, sit down on your floor, and listen to your records" goes the song the gives their latest album its title.)

Nevertheless, it was fairly remarkable to be in an audience that was so passionately locked in on interacting this way with the band. I'm a bit of a latecomer to the group--I got on board with 2008's Stay Positive--and not as closely familiar with the three earlier albums. (I've not heard their debut at all.) The energy surging between musicians and audience more than made up for my knowledge gaps while enjoying The Hold Steady tear through their catalog with abandon.

It seems to me that "We Can Get Together", the song referenced two paragraphs above, condenses what appears to be the band's mission statement, if rock groups were to have such things. Finn--and I attribute this to him since he writes the lyrics--wants to experience the spiritual through rock music and make a space for others to share in that. If this evening's ecstatic concert is indicative of what they are capable of doing, The Hold Steady can consider themselves successful.

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