Happy In Bag

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Hold Steady

It was after one on Monday morning and a pitcher of beer was being sloshed around the postcard-sized stage. Everyone’s mug- band and fans alike- was filled in a communal salute to a night of rock’n’roll debauchery.

I recall elbowing a hippie dancer away from the stage so I could sing along directly into front man Craig Finn’s face. There was vodka and Red Bull- only my wallet knows how many.

It was the kind of night in which I didn’t even care that I insulted a good friend’s girlfriend, or that the workweek began in a few hours. Nothing mattered except for the fact that I was about to receive a purification, an affirmation of my love of popular music. The Hold Steady were in town. And I had a ride home.

Less than 50 people were around on June 20 at The Jackpot Saloon in Lawrence, KS, when Finn’s declamatory barking began. A dizzying hour later, all were drained as if our collective sweat, tears, along with a little sacrificial blood, lay the floor, pooled among the spilled beer.

Exhausted, my pal Shannon cried, "They almost killed me."

Existing fans will know from the set list (pictured, snatched by a rabid fan boy) that this event was a raging tent revival. Finn’s confrontational between-song banter targeted Boz Skaggs and The New York Yankees, which compelled me to smack the offending cap off a nearby patron.

The band- organ, bass, guitar and drums- careened through the set like ace studio musicians held hostage at gunpoint and forced to drink Jagermeister as part of their sadistic torture regimen.

With the release of Darkness On the Edge of Town in 1978, I became an acolyte of Bruce Springsteen. Twenty-seven years later, almost none of my old peers still hit the clubs and record stores. So when I proselytize to kids about this furious new band that’s based on the epic grandeur of Born To Run, I get blank stares or often, open scorn, in return.

Critics have been quick to comment on this connection, along with The Hold Steady’s nods to AC/DC and Cheap Trick. I mostly hear a brilliant merging of Husker Du’s noisy melodic sensibility with Bruce Springsteen’s equally passionate conviction in street poet word-play.

At this late date, The Hold Steady confirm that my faith in the redeeming power of this music isn’t futile. It’s sustained, and more significantly, resurrected, even if only a few of my little hood rat friends are there to witness the miracle.


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