Monday 26 February 2024

Live: Craig Finn

On Friday after finishing work, I drove into Leeds to see Craig Finn at a new venue called The Wardrobe. I went on my own because Ben was on holiday - otherwise he'd have been there like a shot, because Finn and his band The Hold Steady are one of the few musical artists we're in 100% agreement on. 

As I finish work at 3.30 on Friday, I wasted an hour or so driving round charity shops on the outskirts of Leeds until the evening parking rate kicked in. Came away empty handed - city-adjacent charity shops rarely have anything interesting to offer. I had a couple of hours to kill in Leeds, so spent as long as I could reading my book over decaf and a toasted sandwich in Cafe Nero, then loitered until the venue opened at 7.30. I was one of the first to arrive, but the lighting wasn't good enough to read my book in there, so I found a good spot and hung around like a spare part till the support came on a 8.15.

Scott Lavene has appeared on this blog previously, and I think John Medd might also be a fan. He's an artist who appears to have heard Billy Bragg's version of Walk Away, Renee and decided to build an entire act based upon it. 

Lavene walks that controversial tightrope between troubadour and stand up, but the audience warmed to him quickly and his closing tune might even have brought a tear to the less-cynical eyes... though Scott was quick to point out that the emotional hook, “I chose amphetamines over you”, was available on T-shirts at the merch stand.

And then came the main event, all the way from New York City (originally Minneapolis).

Why are The Hold Steady one of my favourite post-20th Century bands?

The simple answer to that is the same one I'd give for most of my favourite artists. Craig Finn is a great songwriter. Even better, he's a great storyteller. So whether his band is influenced by Hüsker Dü or the Replacements, Cheap Trick or the Minutemen, Finn's lyrics follow a line from Dylan to Zevon to Springsteen. That's a great combination when they're all together...

...but I've grown to love Finn's solo work even more. This latest series of shows was billed as "Songs & Stories", just Finn and his guitar (a $30 acoustic that, he tells us, was given to him by a bandmate... although when he wanted to take it on tour, he had to get it fitted with a $500 pickup).  

Anyway, we got a lot of stories behind the songs on Friday night, including the revelation that the one above dates back to 2001, before Craig started his band, when he was just a New York City office worker. On September 11th, when the first plane went into the Twin Towers, his boss invited him to cut work for the morning, go up on the roof of his apartment, and watch the devastation as it unfolded. They ended up guiltily drinking beer... perhaps not the most appropriate thing to do while so many people were dying... but it says a lot about the utter unreality of that day. (Finn goes on to confess that the fall-out of 9/11 was years of drug and alcohol addiction, before he finally got himself straight.)

The highlight of the show, ironically given what I said above, was the sole Hold Steady song, Magazines. It was the story Craig told to set it up and give it context that made it so special. He explained he'd written the song the morning after being dumped by the love of his life... which might explain why "it's not a very nice song. A great song - but not very nice." After writing it though, he got a phone call from the woman in question, saying maybe she'd been a little hasty... maybe they should talk... 

They're still together today.
I wonder how she feels about the song now?


  1. I have acouple of Hold Steady albums, and Separation Sunday could be the next one acquired. Not heard Craig Finn solo songs yet, but o course that will change shortly

  2. Great post and review, Rol. Sadly, I'm going to miss Craig Finn when he rolls into Bristol, the nearest gig to me.

    I haven't carried out a scientific study of this to produce compelling evidence but it feels that a disproportionate number of gigs within a 30-mile radius of me seem to happen on a Thursday which, with very few exceptions, is the one day of the week that I can't get to a show.

    1. Unless it's school holidays, I can only make it to Friday or Saturday night gigs these days. I've been lucky lately, most of the acts I've really wanted to see have been on those nights... but I tend to see stuff at smaller venues which tend to favour the weekends anyway.


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