The Hold Steady loves San Diego, and San Diego loves the Hold Steady. But why? The Hold Steady’s lyrics center around Midwest teens with nothing to do but drugs and religion. Why do San Diegans identify so much with this band?
The answer lies in the fact that San Diego is a town of transplants. People from the East Coast and Midwest come looking for surf, sun, sand, and success. It’s a town of restless youths, maybe slightly older in numbers than the characters Craig Finn writes about, but maturity-wise, they’re right on the money. And maybe they don’t seek refuge in drugs and religion, but there are plenty of other cures out here.
But why do I love the Hold Steady? It’s a given that their fans have a tendency to possess testicles. I do have a restless streak – three years in a town and I’m looking to move on. And yes, I grew up in small town America, although it was a little further East than the Midwest. But there’s more to it than that.
The Hold Steady love words, and that’s why I love the Hold Steady.
Their lyrics are riddled with references to writers and poets (Tennyson to Berryman to Sal Paradise – aka Jack Kerouac). Their song subjects center around Scriptures and stories. More than a songwriter, singer Craig Finn is the poet laureate of the iGeneration, backed by a kickass bar band. He’s a Dylan, a Springsteen, a Kerouac. His characters aren’t necessarily noble or sad, but he knows them inside out. And so do we. The Hold Steady’s songs are contoured to his lyrics, never letting the music get in the way of the words. Because the words are the important thing. Even if words alone never could save us, last Friday night they got awfully close.
From the first note of the first song, it was obvious that the Hold Steady was in San Diego to make some noise. Grinning like kids at Christmas, they jumped around the stage, ripping out masterful licks. And if any of them noticed me at the front of the stage, they would have seen their grins reflected right back at them. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, either.
It was clear that they were overjoyed to be playing for such a responsive crowd. Song after song poured out of them as freely as their sweat, and many of their lyrics were shouted back at them by the crowd. All of the band members have great stage charisma, and the friendships are easy to see even on stage. This isn’t a band controlled by petty arguments or a drive for money. This is a band that’s driven by a love of making music and bringing their stories to the masses. Oh, and by partying. Bassist Galen Polivka can not only play bass one-handed while drinking a beer, but he can also play one-handed while taking out his wallet, opening it up and finding a spare pick inside it. Now that’s hardcore.
I don’t have any more words to describe what happened at Canes Friday night. This will go down in history as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and I hope to see this band again and again and again. So instead of using puny words to describe the show (I’m sure Finn could do a stellar job of it, but I’m not anywhere near that caliber of a writer), I’ll leave you with an illustrated setlist for your viewing pleasure:
- “You’re pretty good with words/But words won’t save your life.” (Stuck Between Stations)
- “She said I really like the crowds at the really big shows/People touching people that they don’t even know.” (Hornets! Hornets!)
- “Some nights the painkillers make the pain even worse.” (Chips Ahoy)
- “You can wear his old sweatshirt/You can cover yourself like a bruise.” (You Can Make Him Like You)
- “She said I think that all those things I did/Were just momentum from the Party Pit.” (Party Pit)
- “We had some massive nights/Every song was right/All that wine was tight.” (Massive Nights)
- “She said it’s good to see you back in a bar band, baby/I said it’s great to see you’re still in the bars.” (Barfruit Blues)
- “Do you want me to tell it like boy meets girl and the rest is history/Or do you want it like a murder mystery/I’m gonna tell it like a comeback story.” (Charlemagne in Sweatpants)
- “I was unfurling a flag of defiance/Aimed at my guidance guy.” (Hot Soft Light)
- “We didn’t go to Dallas/’Cause Jackie Onassis said that it ain’t safe for Catholics yet.” (Don’t Let Me Explode)
- “She got strung out on the scene/She got scared when it got druggy/The way the whispers bit like fangs in the last hour of the parties.” (Stevie Nix)
- “And song number four on that thirsty floor/You want the scars but you don’t want the war/Now that’s just hardcore/These kids are clever to the core.” (Girls Like Status)
- “She said I ain’t gonna do anything sexual with you/I’m kinda saving myself for the scene.” (Your Little Hoodrat Friend)
- “Southtown girls won’t blow you away/But you know that they’ll stay.” (Southtown Girls)
- “She crashed into the Easter mass/With her hair done up in broken glass/She was limping left on broken heels/When she said Father, can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?” (How a Resurrection Really Feels)
- “I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.” (Citrus)
- “She was golden with bar light and beer/She slept like she’d never been scared.” (First Night – end of regular set)
- “I drank until I dreamed/When I dreamed I always dreamed about the scene/All those kids look like little lambs looking up at me.” (Most People are DJ’s)
- “We found out Virginia really is for lovers/Philly is full of friendly friends that will love you like a brother.” (Killer Parties)
The rest of the photos I took can be found here. And remember folks, no matter how famous or cool your indie rock band is, you still gotta tie your own Chucks on stage: