Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Ashcrowe
The Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers :: 11.23.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
On some level, one looks for a reflection of their own life in the music they gravitate towards, some vibrational verisimilitude that feels right. We also want this music to be angled enough to offer us fresh perspectives on what we already know, new paths into wisdom and beauty. Even the most far out stuff still has to retain some core that speaks to our sense of the world or it's just unanchored nonsense. And there's some music that cuts to the quick, speaking to truths so widespread, so self-evident for most of us that they wave around broken hearts and overdue bills while spilling their drink on whatever unlucky son of a bitch happens to be in proximity. Maybe if you've never wanted to punch your boss or taken enough drugs to feel REALLY scared or always had more than enough money in your pocket you might not connect with The Hold Steady or Drive-By Truckers. But for most of us living paycheck to paycheck, eking out happiness and amusement where we can, this pairing on the "Rock And Roll Means Well Tour" was pretty much as good a refraction of reality as it gets at the first night of their Fillmore run.
In total honesty, I've seen both bands give more hell-bent performances in the past but there's much to be said about two contemporaries that are so consistently satisfying that you can set your pocket watch to 'em. Without fail, DBT and THS put on a fine rock show. Period. You can change the dates and venues but I'd put the $5 bucks I have in my wallet down that you'll leave ANY gig by either band smiling. That is as long as you love the sometimes silly, weirdly moving spectacle that is pure blood rock 'n' fuckin' roll. To wit, Patterson Hood joining The Hold Steady at the end of their set for a sloppy, utterly sincere romp through Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' For You." It wasn't polished or sarcastic or anything else that hinted at distance from the goofier aspects of their craft. It was fun loving and ample inspiration to spill one's own drink on a stranger.
The Hold Steady had the first slot, and both bands played approximately 90-minute sets followed by a mega-sized joint encore. The handclap assault began promptly with "Sequestered In Memphis," with Craig Finn in full nigh-epileptic shake, punk roots showing in messy note bursts and a prominent bare fisted attitude from the whole band, especially guitarist Tad Kubler, a blessed mix of Neil Young feedback boogie, Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) razor bubblegum and Greg Ginn (Black Flag) bite. "Same Kooks" plowed into "Constructive Summer" and that into a tale of seven grams short Charlemagne. As they pointed out, "Once you start dying you're already dead," and their set seemed designed to resurrect. As fine as their recent Stay Positive is (see JamBase's review here) every selection from it live had a crackling energy that'd make Frankenstein's monster snap to attention and pump the air wildly. While the ornamentation of the studio versions is lost it was more than made up for by a chugging oomph that showed the new material is completely consonant with anything off Separation Sunday or Boys and Girls In America. And conversely, older cuts like "Multitude of Casualties" took on a mild but pleasant sophistication, largely due to the bell chimes, back room piano and other grand accents from keyboardist-moustache enthusiast Franz Nicolay.
|Craig Finn - The Hold Steady :: 11.03|
Something apparent is both bands' naked love of their music. They get off on the sounds they make. They bust one for the cool lines or ballsy guitar solos or well placed electric piano tinkles. They know they're good, and at The Fillmore they used that confidence to spark against one another in unspoken but friendly competition. No inch would be given, none asked, and each played as solid a show as one could want. Neither was performing just for their faithful so there was a degree of translation involved for each camp's hardcores, but the groups share a bedrock love affair with ROCK in the capitalized, ecclesiastical sense that unified the audience all night. And put bluntly, it's hard to not get off when the bands are gushing geysers.
It's also worth noting how really comfortable both DBT and THS have gotten with sentiment. Each band let a tear fall in their beer more than a few times. This may be a byproduct of age, having kids or just a softening that occurs when life has tenderized you with disasters and disappointments for a few decades. It's more difficult to keep up a tough guy stance when you've seen a few dreams and friends die. Personally, I like the kinder, gentler sides of these bands and reveled in the unguarded sniffles of The Hold Steady's epic, swoony rendition of "Lord, I'm Discouraged" and the barely contained pain of the Truckers' "The Living Bubba." As if either band needed more humanizing elements, this newfound comfort level with sincerity and simple, heartfelt emotions was one of the neatest, most moving parts of this gig.
|Mike Cooley - Drive-By Truckers :: 11.03|
However, the general tone of the evening was rowdy, raucous and other boisterous words that begin with "R". I think there's something fundamentally wrong with you if you don't lose your mind a little during "Massive Nights" (which I and everyone around me surely did) or the version of "Navy Sheets" THS offered up that suggested what Television might sound like if they'd imbibed a knee shaking amount of tequila and weed. "Everybody wants something sweet," cried Finn as they stuffed hard candy down our throats. Later, Finn ruminated on how "some songs get so scratched into our souls," and it was apparent that they'd made a good-sized indentation into most of us. The Hold Steady work in a sort of six-pack pathos that understands why the boys and girls in America are so sad together AND why we don't really have to be. They drive us to get past ourselves, to bust through our scabs and engage, even if it hurts like the dickens. Sure, we can dance alone but they remind us how much nicer it is to swing and sway with others, even if we come off the dance floor with a black eye from time to time.
The Truckers emerged in front of a backdrop of big gray-tinged clouds and hovering black birds, freedom and foreboding oozing from Wes Freed's paints before they cranked up a note. It's fitting because you can really feel DBT in the marrow of you. They're a rhythm 'n' blues spinal tap that can leave you stirred up. From the all-out rockers like "Ronnie and Neil" to more nuanced fare like "Feb 14," a heaviness clung to their set, which didn't skip like The Hold Steady but held up just fine in terms of density. Their terrifically weather beaten hearts were on their sleeves, while Mike Cooley delivered his guitar hero best and Patterson preached unapologetically from his microphone pulpit. Like Finn, Hood is an air puncher and reluctant to let rock get too refined. Sure, the boardwalk organ flourishes and piano splashes from DBT's new keyboardist spread color around, but the real meat of the music can be summed up in the line from "The Righteous Path," played with stunning power this eve, where Hood growled, "No time for self pity or self-righteous crap/ Trying to stay focused on the righteous path."
| P. Hood (DBT) & C. Finn (THS) :: 11.03|
Cooley had the gnarled grandeur of vintage Merle Haggard on "Checkout Time In Vegas" and Shonna Tucker continued to prove she's every bit ready to be a singer-songwriter voice in this band during "Home Field Advantage," as well as being one of the sturdiest, grooviest bassist in rock today. DBT are clearly dedicated to their newest album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, pulling the bulk of their set from it. But it's easy to see why when one hears all the new pockets opening up from the studio versions, particularly the stormy menace of "Goode's Field Road," an undeniable highlight for many of us, and the dirty sex stickiness of "3 Dimes Down."
When the Truckers returned for the encore they destroyed Springsteen's "Adam Raised A Cain" and soon The Hold Steady came out to join them for some really messy (in a great way) work on show-stopper "Let There Be Rock." Both bands remained for the rest of the show, which included Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." After roughly 45-minutes of madness the night came to an end with Hood and Finn on their knees and backs, shouting lyrics, sweating, grinding against each other, adding words and just getting fuckin' rocked out. Stained in the aftermath and dripping in glory, the last thing Hood said was, "Rock and roll means well... No it don't! It means to fuck you up and that's why we love it so."
Consider us good and fucked up, Mr. Hood.
JamBase | Flattened
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