Monday, February 6, 2012

Live Review: Craig Finn of the Hold Steady at Slowdown

Finn performs with his band on Slowdown's front room stage.

With a big snowfall iminent, I wondered how many people would actually show up to see Craig Finn on Friday night. Granted, the snow wasn't supposed to start falling until after the concert would be over, but people in this town kinda freak when they see a few white flakes fall from the sky.

When we arrived at Slowdown at about 8:30, only about 10 people (not including the club's employees) were milling about. I was surprised to see it was a front room show, but it probably would have felt empty in the main room.

As I feared, there were very few people there. But when the frontman of The Hold Steady took the stage more than an hour later, it was very full.

With little grandiosity but lots of applause, Finn took the stage with the band from his solo album, "Clear Heart, Full Eyes."

"Hey Omaha. The last time I was here was in the parking lot outside here on a night much nicer than tonight," Finn said, mentioning this summer's outdoor show at the venue. "These songs - or most of these songs - are off my solo album. Thanks for coming out tonight. Thanks for being a part of it."

To be sure, there wouldn't be any songs by The Hold Steady. Holding an acoustic guitar instead of his usual Les Paul, Finn started into the leadoff track off of his new album, "Apollo Bay."

In an interview, Finn described this music as being much less celebratory than what you'd normally get from The Hold Steady. That's for sure. These songs were more subdued, more singer-songwriter style, but still good. The guys:girls ratio was about on par for a Hold Steady concert, but there was no fist-pumping, fewer people singing and no tallboys raised in the air.

A lot of these songs are about being an adult and dealing with transitioning from your teenage/twentysomething shenanigans to being an adult while still staying true yourself. Of course, nothing changed in your personality: you didn't stop liking whiskey or staying up late with your friends, but you're expected to grow up.

That was pretty well summed up by Finn before he and the band played the song "Rented Room."

"You know when you're in college or you're just out of college - whatever you do - late teens/early twenties and you live in a house with all these roommates? And all these fun things happen. You're drinking, you're carrying on. You have all these inside jokes. It's funny," Finn said. "But when you're 35 and you have a whole bunch of roommates, it's not funny at all. Take it from me."

No, it's not funny, but it still did get some laughs. Finn was a lot more talkative than he usually is and had a lot of good anecdotes like the one above.

He played every song from the album as well as some stuff that didn't make the cut. Some of those songs were the best ones he played, such as "When You're Going To A Show," "Some Guns" and "Sarah, I'm Surrounded." (Check out the full setlist.) Hopefully he releases an EP of extra songs sometime.

Other favorites of mine were "Honolulu Blues" and "No Future," which you can listen to below.

Also of note was opening band Mount Moriah. The North Carolina band was fronted by tiny woman with a big, melodic voice, which was matched up well with their very melodic lead guitar player. I highly recommend you listen to their song "We Don't Need That Much."

After the show, Finn took at seat at the merch table to sign autographs and meet fans. I always like to meet artists I've interviewed in person, so I made my way back there while my friends snagged a booth in the emptying club.

Finn signed merch items, talked to fans and posed for a few photos. He was cool enough to let me bug him for a minute, and sign a vinyl copy of "Clear Heart, Full Eyes" for me. Since he played several songs that weren't on the album, I asked if he had plans to release an EP of those songs. He said he'd really like to, but there were no definite plans.

Finn also mentioned that mentioned how awesome Slowdown is compared to other venues he's played at. I said I think he's the only artist to ever play the front room, main room and outside stage there, and he laughed. He said it's a fantastic venue, especially compared to the place they were at the night before, whih may have been his number one worst place to play at.

I appreciate artists that hang out and talk to fans (and me, too). It takes little effort and it's a memory that people will have for a long time.

Apollo Bay
No Future
When No One's Watching
Some Guns
My New Friend Jesus
Sarah, I'm Surrounded
The Man Around Your House
Dudes From St. Paul
When You're Going To A Show
Honolulu Blues
Rented Room
Terrified Eyes
Not Much Left Of Us

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