Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rock and Roll Means Well

I was in a hotel room in Kansas City, on my ballpark trip this past summer, when I received the e-mail notification about Sunday night's double-bill of The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets were to go on sale the following morning, and I was on vacation, so I had no problem being ready to repeatedly click refresh as I waited for seats to become available.

When we arrived at the show, and were making our way to our seats, it quickly became clear that my friend Len, whether I had told him or not, wasn't aware of how good they were. So, he was quite pleasantly surprised when we sat down in the second row of the venue. We talked about how we were no strangers to this good a vantage point at a show, having stood right up front for numerous club shows at the Middle East, TT the Bear's and the Paradise. But, we're a little older these days, and certainly appreciated the fact that we had seats to take advantage of in between sets and didn't have to worry about others invading our space.

The tour pairing these two great American indie bands has been dubbed the Rock and Roll Means Well Tour, and not only did they have good intentions, but they delivered as well. Sharing equal billing on the tour, the two have been trading nights as the show's closing act. On this particular night, the Drive-By Truckers opened, and Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and company began the night on a strong note.

We both agreed that Patterson Hood, who bears a slight resemblance to our friend Anders Parker, was a much more charismatic band leader and performer than the Keith Richards wannabe, Mike Cooley. Living up to their reputations as hard-drinking southerners, Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker traded swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniels, while Hood and multi-instrumentalist John Neff shared a fifth of their own.

The highlight of the entire night, and quite possibly one of my all-time favorite concert moments, was the Truckers' set closing ode to their musical roots, "Let There Be Rock" (not an AC/DC cover). From the song's opening line about attending a Blue Oyster Cult concert at fourteen years old, to the eerily reminiscent "One night when I was seventeen, I drank a fifth of vodka, on an empty stomach, then drove over to a friend's house", it felt like the early 80s again. It wasn't just nostalgia that made this a memorable moment, but also the energy with which Hood tells the story of his youth, and the bands he saw and never saw live, while hinting as to the tragic circumstances of why he missed out on the opportunity to see the band his is most often compared to, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The Truckers were a tough act to follow, but The Hold Steady held up their end of the bargain. Witnessing Craig Finn's spastic on-stage energy was as entertaining as ever, but our one complaint was the sound mix. For a band led by one of the most literate songwriters in modern rock, the vocals were not quite loud enough, drowned out mostly by Tad Kubler's impressive guitar playing. Still, Finn's energy and the slightly flamboyant showmanship of keyboard player Franz Nicolay were quite entertaining to watch, and the irony of Nicolay downing a bottle of red wine on a stage he shared with a band of whisky-drinking southerners was certainly not lost on us.

There was no "Let There Be Rock" moment during The Hold Steady's set, but an encore version of The Band's "Look Out Cleveland" performed with most of the Drive-By Truckers would have to do. All in all, this was a concert that would have to considered a serious candidate for double-bill of the 00s.


  1. maybe someday a video will surface on YouTubeof Varnaline live at the Lion's Lair in Denver (date unknown). We can only dream of such a thing...

    other YouTube fantasies (some of which actually exist!):
    1. Matt S's cousin's wedding video
    2. Mike O's best man speech at my first wedding
    3. Space Needle live in Missoula on Halloween 1995
    4. Me tossed out of Expos game bachelor party after climbing up into the top of the Expodome
    5. Bunch of us tossed out of Urban Dance Squad show in NYC because one of us "put his hands where they didn't belong"...

  2. Once was a time when I was hip to the indie music scene - played in a band, worked on campus radio station, etc. All of my favorite gigs were like the one you have described. Sometimes I miss those days. Tradeoffs must be made. :)

  3. What's interesting about The Hold Steady, Casey, is that they draw frequent comparisons to Springsteen because of their lyrical story-telling, and the fact that their music draws a lot of influence from classic rock. There's also a bit of a simple garage punk thing going on, sort of a la The Replacements, I'd say. Sounds like a band you'd love, right? On the other hand, a lot of people find the singer's style somewhat grating, so I don't know.

  4. Lee, I would love to see some of your YouTube fantasies come true, particularly nos. 2 and 4.