TVD Live: Craig Finn
at Rock & Roll Hotel, 3/2

I’ll admit that when I made plans to see Craig Finn, I was actually expecting to see the Hold Steady Lite. Considering that Finn is the face and voice of the band, I couldn’t see how there’d be much of a difference, besides possibly scaling the entire operation down to fit the Rock & Roll Hotel’s small stage last Friday.

That was before I heard his solo album.

When I finally sat down and listened to Clear Heart Full Eyes, I was a little disappointed. The songs were well-crafted, but while Hold Steady albums often have at least several really strong songs that veer into the sublime, I was left feeling flat in comparison. I guiltily wanted an album packed with “Arms and Hearts” knock-offs, or at the very least, something that sounded more like what I was used to with Finn’s other band.

As a result, I went to Friday’s show saddled with doubt. However, I’m pleased to report that Finn ended up winning me over.

Finn and his backup band, dubbed the Some Guns, took the stage after opener Marcellus Hall offered a solid, folk rock set that included a few good earworms, most notably “Star Position,” a clever ode to singledom.

They began the set with “No Future,” a song that was probably my favorite off of Clear Heart Full Eyes but didn’t necessarily blow me away when listening at home. I appreciated the lyrics, which, like Titus Andronicus did on the Monitor, recast the Sex Pistols’ now classic form of nihilism for an indie crowd, but that was pretty much it.

Live, however, the song sounded much more organic and energetic, due in part to Finn’s talent as a front man. While he’s shed plenty of the trappings from the Hold Steady for Clear Heart Full Eyes, he remains a highly engaging performer, coming off as a musician who enjoys what he’s doing, even while singing something that clearly sounds heartbreaking.

This remained true for the rest of the set, with highlights including the painful “Rented Room,” “Jackson,” and “New Friend Jesus,” which Finn joked could have benefitted from being called “New Friend Jay-Z.”

Interestingly, the best song of the evening was “Some Guns,” one that wasn’t even on the album. While Finn laughed it off as a theme song for his back-up band and comparing it to the eponymous Monkees song, it easily stood out as the most compelling, taking the listener from Chicago street corners to the Texan plains.

Following the show, I spoke to a handful of people who were disappointed that Finn didn’t laden the set-list with some crowd-pleasing Hold Steady numbers. However, you have to give him credit for not pandering. In fact, it raises a larger point. Friday night’s performance proved that Finn’s touring behind an album that was unmistakably the one he wanted to make. Fools like me who are apparently afraid of change be damned.

Photos by Erica Bruce

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