Cautious Revelry at the Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers Blowout


Craig on the left in ’07. It’s probably plugged in. CREDIT.

Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers
Terminal 5
Thursday, November 6

My new theory is Craig Finn doesn’t actually know how to play guitar. He looks halfway credible holding one, and occasionally deigns to strum it with some semblance of rhythm, but this is, like, five percent of the time, maybe, and it never seems to correspond to actual onstage sound. Madonna tries harder. But it’s actually quite endearing, this guitar-as-prop thing, and besides, the Hold Steady opened with “Stay Positive,” and Obama actually fuckin’ won, and ahhhhhhhhhh.

I had placed a great deal of psychic weight on this show as a post-election barometer, setting it up as either the angriest or the most triumphant rock concert of all time, and while the celebratory air was undeniable, so too was a sense of The Road Ahead, the idea that this was more of beginning than an end, now it’s time to get to work, miles to go before we sleep, etc. A very Obama’s-acceptance-speech sort of show, certainly not sober, but quietly sobering. So “Constructive Summer” was an exhilarating blast, but also a challenge: You wanted to build it, now build it. And the best new Hold Steady song is still the exquisitely melancholy “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” a power ballad for folks who actually wield power again, and tonight the first instance in recorded history of an accordion and a double-neck guitar being onstage simultaneously.

The Truckers, too, were muted in their reveling: They continue to sing tremendously articulate and defiantly raucous songs about depression, desperation, near-hopelessness. “Got a whole lot of debt and a whole lot of fear” goes a typical verse; “Hell no I ain’t happy” goes a typical chorus. They are ramblers and meanderers by design, but while your attention eventually wanders, some random tune always snaps it back: “Puttin’ People on the Moon” was a monster, an anthemic ode to American ingenuity, and how it tends to overshadow poverty, unemployment, lousy health care, etc. Lovely. Later garrulous co-frontman Patterson Hood howled “It’s fuckin’ great to be alive!” before he got back to the chorus: “It’s gonna be a world of hurt.” Then a bunch of Hold Steady dudes came out and they all finished up with “People Who Died.”