My friends and I arrived an hour early to the Crystal Ballroom. We stood by the door, and pondered going to the record store across the street, but I convinced them to wait. Why exactly? Consider the following (in retrospect terrible, absolutely terrible) photograph:
I’ve never been so interactive with the bands involved in a show before, excluding local bands at coffee shops. The first band on stage was a fun little punk band called The Loved Ones, who I had not heard before the show, but liked immensely by the end of the set. The highlight here was frontman Dave Hause deciding it was a superb idea to start the show by crouching above me onstage and messing up my hair! For added fun, Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay (and his badass harmonica skills) of The Hold Steady joined them for one last song, which was a great treat. They only played 30 minutes, but they made the most of every minute, embodying the kind of music that your mother warned you about. They show a special sort of passion for their music, the kind you aren’t going to understand unless you see them play live. A fine choice for a band to play with a band like The Hold Steady: passionate and happy just to be there.
Then… The Hold Steady. What can I say that I haven’t already said about this band? They are my inspiration for writing and playing music, and it’s an honor to have seen them live at all, let alone twice. Seeing this band play, if you like them at all, is almost like going to church: with everyone screaming and smiling and cheering, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve seen something really special in having been present for what they do.
While frontman (and personal idol) Craig Finn jumps around riles up the crowd, singing his gospels, guitarist Tad Kubler unfurls his intense and often absurd guitar work, the likes of which aren’t often seen by the bar band scene of the US. This is all backed by the wonderful bass work of Galen Polivka (who also started their show by messing up my hair [twice!] for some reason), the keyboard skill of Franz Nicolay (who looks like someone who should have been in Gogol Bordello), and the equally excellent drum skill of Bobby Drake (easily one of the most normal looking of the bunch). All of the tiny moving parts make up the rousing, almost otherworldly whole, and it’s hard not to be awe inspired by their shows.
It’s hard not to babble incessantly about what a show with The Hold Steady is like. A year ago, when I saw them the first time, I realized that you could love or hate them, but looking at Craig Finn, there are a lot of things he should be doing, but there’s only one thing he wants to be doing. Finn is by no means the type to hide the fact that he’s pleased as punch to be doing what he’s doing, and he’s humbled by the fact that there are four people who are willing to play with him, and the fact that there are so many kids who know every last word he’s committed to record. For a man like Finn, there is no greater gift than having his lyrics screamed back at him while he wails on his guitar, and it’s clear when he dances around stage, smiling more than any human being should be able to. Say what you will about their music, but you can’t hate them, if only for the fact that they are the embodiment of American rock: it’s done from the heart and soul, and to hell with how anyone feels about how you sound.
I left the Crystal Ballroom with a noise in my ears. After three nights of ear-splitting racket, it was a wonder that I was able to hear properly. I also left with a smile on my face, because even though I’ve seen it before, I got to see something truly special: a band that is really, truly happy to be doing what they’re doing, and who couldn’t be more happy with what they’ve created: real live American rock n’ roll. I doubt I will ever tire of The Hold Steady’s brand of sing along song, because the message transcends Craig Finn’s half-singing: “Music is still alive, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it die on my watch.”