Staying Positive In The Future: Craig Finn mixes bar time heartbreak, reflection, and positivity during homecoming show at The Woman's Club in Minneapolis.
On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending one of the two homecoming shows for Craig Finn, the front man for the famed rock band The Hold Steady. Finn is on a solo tour supporting his second solo album, Faith In The Future. The first stop of his weekend stay was at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis, located in the Loring Park neighborhood, which is known for its upscale living and devotion to the arts.
Being my first time at the Woman's Club, I was intrigued to see how the venue compared to the other, more famous venues in town such as First Avenue. When I first arrived, I was confused and convinced that I was at the wrong place. A doorman was placed at the front entrance and greeted guests clad in lavish attire. Surely this is not the audience that a rock and roller who sings about being hung over would attract. I was quickly informed that this side of the building was being used for a wedding and that I would have to walk to an entrance located on the other side. Arriving at the other entrance, I found myself surrounded by horn-rimmed glasses and peacoats, which assured me that I was indeed at the right place. The theater itself was cozy and felt more like a high school auditorium than a rock club. The website claimed a capacity of 650 but the intimacy of the room made it feel even smaller. Bypassing the overpriced T-shirts, I found my seat, ready to take in the Finn's performance.
As I settled in, others started to slowly seep in. The music of Craig Finn and The Hold Steady attracts a wide range music lovers and predicting the audience of any given show can be tough. Saturday's show seemed to attract almost every type of Finn fan from the salt of the earth working folk to the white-collar socialites. Surprisingly, the audience members ranged from high school seniors to possible AARP members. The attire of the audience ranged from the honest apparel of Jacklyn Smith to the elegant sootiness of the top designers at Saks Fifth Avenue. I like to think that my outfit of Old Navy and The Gap helped bridge the "gap" between the two parties. As expected at any show in which an alternative rock band is playing, I was treated to the sounds of conversations that featured lines such as "Hey, what time is your flight to Seattle on Tuesday?" and "I just don't have time for commercial films. I just don't think films should make money." For some reason, a large portion of the crowd seemed familiar to be and it puzzled me throughout the night. Why did everyone look and feel so familiar to me? Have I seen so many shows now that I've sat next to all of these people at one point or another? This puzzling feeling continued until well into Finn's set when I realized that it's not that I've physically seen each audience member, instead I had been introduced to them through Finn's songs. Many of the audience members represented the reoccurring characters in Finn's stories: the aging hipster, the bartender, the bartender's friend, the Midwest pixie dream girl, and the heartbroken college kid looking for "the one."
The show began promptly at 8pm; starting with Portland singer/songwriter Esmé Patterson, originally from the Denver folk band Paper Bird. I will admit, like most of the audience, I was not well-versed in the work of Patterson or Paper Bird but after her forty-five minute set, you can now call me a fan. With a voice that lays somewhere between Tristen Gaspadarek and Zooey Deschanel, Patterson brought her own mix of folky rock and roll to the well-receiving crowd. Most of her set was made up of songs from her upcoming album and his current release Woman to Woman, which is a concept album of songs written as responses to famous songs about women. With a telecaster strapped on, Patterson blasted through each song with a confidence rarely seen by opening performers. I fully expect to see more of her in the future.
The main event of the night, Craig Finn, came out to a rousing applause from the hometown crowd. Opening with the slow burner, “Christine” from his latest record, Finn found his groove quickly and took a tight control of the audience. Without addressing the crowd, Finn quickly switched to the first single from the new record “Maggie, I’m Still Searching For Our Son.” The song, which finds Finn reflecting on several national incidents including mass shootings and the Waco siege, attempts to find a positive outlook in a time of such grim, everyday occurrences. Live, the song blasted through the theater and featured Finn’s classic mannerisms that look like a panic attack crossed with a seizure. Finn transformed the fan favorite “Jackson,” from a bluesy psychedelic number into a full-fledged rock song with Finn shouting the refrain “why you asking about Jackson?” The story behind the lyrics of “Jackson” introduced Finn’s classic style of songwriting, which features stories about drinking, heartbreak, bad decisions, and spending too much time inside of a bar. Before launching into the dangerously rocking “Newmyer’s Roof,” Finn gave an interesting background to the song, discussing being in New York City on 9/11 and staying positive in times of despair. Finn added that his significant other was in one of the towers when the first plane hit and walked down 32 flights of stairs to the ground floor. The rest of the night was filled up with other cuts from the new album and “Mission Veijo,” one of the first songs Finn ever recorded with his former band Lifter Puller.
There’s something you get a Craig Finn related show that you’d be hard pressed to find at other shows. When Finn is on stage, he is there to have a good time and focus only on the music. Finn is not interested in the party tricks that other bands offer; he is only interested in telling his wild and crazy stories. But with Finn, you also get the feeling of a humble man who on any other day, could be the man sitting next to you at the neighborhood bar. It’s the personable and dorky charm that Finn offers that keeps audiences of all kinds coming back.
The venue is beautiful. It's very clean and the staff was really nice. I would have just appreciated a few more signs directing people where to go so I can avoid any unintended wedding crashing.
Generally, the crowd was responsive and respectful. There were a few unneeded shouts from the audience but, for the most part they were well maintained. I am marking them down a little bit though for two reasons. First of all, the crowd didn't really interact with each other before the show as much as one would expect at a Craig Finn show. The second reason is probably too harsh but I don't care! The audience, for some reason, could not figure how to clap along. Friends don't let friends clap on 1 and 3!
What a show stopper! Esmé Patterson really put on a great show and I hope to see her again.
What can you say about Craig Finn? He's great at what he does, it's that simple.