When you catch wind of a band touted as the "best bar band in America," it tends to perk up your ears a little. It makes you want to agree with that critic who determined they were such to begin with. The Hold Steady was an acquired taste for me for a good long time (maybe a year? maybe more?) but, once I decided lead singer Craig Finn was more a cantankerous songwriter/poet than one who bothered with, say, pleasing all the ears that heard him by changing his voice to be more palatable, I had a change of heart. I heard him differently. Ever do that with a singer or band? It's like absolutely hating tuna in your youth and eating entire cans of it for dinner as an adult—your tastes grow naturally as you do. Dislikes can and do morph into likes when you least expect them to.
So, while I can shout along to his choruses ("Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine" is a fun one to say over and over again, for inst), I find myself just listening to his stories the rest of the time. I don't need to sing along—I do need to listen, on the other hand. Closely. Once you get used to his world, one that sounds like he treats the bars all across America as his own personal hotels, you start knowing what to expect. He's a modern day troubadour. Our own singing Charles Bukowski. And, for whatever reason, I find I can attach myself to his songs and feel like I could be thinking and saying some of the same things he's putting across to us. Perhaps that's narcissistic? It's not like he's flaunting himself as a great guy. In fact, he's one of the troubled sorts, lost in remembered kisses and apologizing to God and slipping into the haze of drink sometimes. He's an everyman. He's our everyman.
It helped to come to these kinds of realizations before going to see the band in concert last Saturday. And, well, it's just as I expected it might be. A sold out crowd of the faithful, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a sweaty, drinking, handclapping, shoutalonging mess. Craig smiled and sang and shouted back at us and told us the stories we already knew, but with the extra fervor that we wanted (or, okay, needed) to exist along with them. And, you know what? It was a beautiful thing.
Here's one of the slower moments of the night, perhaps even the slowest. C'mon, though ... even the best bar band in America needs a chance to breathe now and again ...