On a lovely warm evening in the West Loop I reaffirmed my rock & roll vows. The occasion was the Hold Steady show last night down at Taste of Randolph. May I just say that I absolutely love seeing a 40-something, short, balding, bespectacled guy like Craig Finn getting rock-star love?
He's so unconcerned with being cool, pogoing, grinning, flailing, unabashed to be giddily and dorkily in love with what's "only" rock & roll, unashamed about how upped he is by his hot band's intense Thin Lizzy twin-guitar attack. Musically the band is irresistible, at least according to my aesthetic: the underground meeting the beating heart of rock, a smokin', funky, punk-"Exile" landscape of Springsteen, Dylan, and Husker Du, over which rides Finn's honest, literate, witty, affectionate chronicling of the teenage wasteland.
The audience was extraordinary, the most mixed in age I’ve seen at any show. Sure, a lot of 'em are my peeps: middle-aged guys who look like Craig Finn. (Women are really into him, too, I might add). But the kids! The kids were amazing. That’s why I was glad I got to see this band at an outdoor festival: you’d lose the kids at a 21-and-over show. Some of the most hardcore looked to be less than half my age. I guess they must have come out from surrounding high schools or something, and they were right up in front. They're the boys and girls Finn sings about on the records.
I mean, these kids are singing every word, and these are really wordy songs. And as hard as Finn’s singing the words at them, they’re throwing them back in his face just as hard, flinging their arms in the air and stabbing each word emphatically.
And getting the humor, too. I love the way Finn makes these little off-mic asides to the crowd in between lines, gassed by his own lines and the audience's reactions. “There are nights that I think Sal Paradise was right,” he declares, and when the kids in front cheer, he throws up his hands and mouths off-mic in their direction, “I know, right??,” before kicking into the next line: “Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together.”
That's when I know I'm seeing rock & roll doing what it's meant to do: when the singer is telling the audience's story.