Tag Archives: Crofoot Ballroom

Concert Buddies: If you don’t have one, GET ONE!

25 Apr

The guys in Deer Tick look like what the Hold Steady guys probably looked like in college ...

One of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady, played at Pontiac’s Crofoot Ballroom Wednesday night. I discovered “the best bar band in America” by a total fluke a couple of years ago: I saw a few of their CDs in the library stacks, remembered I’d read something positive about them in Rolling Stone, and decided to give them a try, then fell hard for their storytelling and muscular musicianship. They have a new album – Teeth Dreams – hence the tour.

The band playing in this area for the first time in five years was a cause for great celebration, but more than a little sadness. Seeing this band in concert has been a cultural Great White Whale for my older daughter and me: long pursued but always just out of reach. Now they were here and she was not, since she is in college in New York (only a subway ride away from Brooklyn, the band’s home base, I might add).

Other than my daughters, I can’t convince anyone else I know to go to concerts with me on a regular basis. (A recent exception: my friend Lois went with me to the Majestic to see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – great company for thunderously amazing show.) Granted, the outfits I want to see aren’t usually chart-toppers, so the overlap between my social circle and fans in metro Detroit is a sliver. This time out, I didn’t help matters when I described The Hold Steady to friends as “a lot like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band without half the instruments – if Bruce and the boys only sang about stoned, drunken, remorseful Catholics in Minneapolis.”

(At least they have a band name I can say without having to brace myself for bemused expressions from those who don’t follow alternative music: I can’t talk about the Airborne Toxic Event or Band of Skulls without a lot of eye-rolling.)

But you know what the real problem here is? I’m an adult. So are my friends. We have to plan ahead. We have to commute and work a full schedule and see to the kids and get up early the next morning. After running around all day, the prospect of standing for four hours in a half-inch of beer to be crushed by knuckleheads pushing toward the stage isn’t a really a draw, even if you are a stone-cold fan.

So I went by myself to see The Hold Steady. It was just me and 500 fellow tribesmen.

Craig Finn at the Crofoot 042314Tribesmen is an accurate term. The typical Hold Steady fan seems to be between 28-45, male, Caucasian, dark-haired and wearing button-up granddad shirts:  the exact description of Craig Finn, the lead singer. Finn looks like your sophomore English teacher, lurches across the stage with an endearing lack of coordination, and speak/sings these weirdly literate stories about burned-out losers searching for love and hope.

Here’s a sample lyric from “You Can Make Him Like You”:

You don’t have to deal with the dealers
let your boyfriend deal with the dealers
it only gets inconvenient
when you wanna get high alone

Before they started their set, Finn explained why they were down to four pieces: their newly hired guitarist Steve Selvidge had to leave the tour to be with his wife and new baby, who came a few weeks early (musicians are adults with adult issues, too). Then they launched into a two-hour, gloriously rich performance.

As the evening wound down after midnight, Finn thanked the audience. “You had a million other things you could do tonight but you chose to come to a rock-and-roll show,” he said. “You came here to be with people who all like the same thing. These days, that’s really important.” Then as the final song wrapped, he introduced the members of the band then pointed out to the audience, “And you, you, you, YOU – we are ALL The Hold Steady!” We all cheered in tribal solidarity and the show was over.

It was freakin’ amazing! You have to take my word for it … since you weren’t there.

So next time, who’s with me?

Enjoy a song by the band from its early days when they were officially a four-piece band:

See you on the flip side …

Before you go, another shout-out to those who have bought my first novel, Love and Other B-Sides! If you haven’t yet, it’s not too late to be cool like they are – download it today!

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Cold Fact

6 Nov

If you saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man or his interview on 60 Minutes, you know the story of Rodriguez. If you haven’t, consider this a spoiler alert:

Sixto Rodriguez, a promising Mexican-American singer/songwriter, recorded two albums in the early 1970 yet his career went nowhere and he had to make his living cleaning out abandoned houses. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his music became hugely popular with white, liberal anti-apartheid South Africans, who considered him on par with Bob Dylan. After years of obscurity, Rodriguez connected with his Afrikaans fans for the first time in 1998. Now at age 70, he is reaping the rewards of being a world-famous musician while staying humble enough to remain in downtown Detroit.

Rodriguez played at the Crofoot Ballroom on Friday night to a sold-out crowd, many of whom (judging by their age and attire) probably hadn’t been to a rock concert since Three Dog Night only had two dogs. Venue management knew they were in for an influx of elder newbies because I received an email like none I have never received before in my whole history of concert-going: a step-by-step guide on how to better enjoy the show if you’re one of “our older friends”:

“The Crofoot is a ‘general admission’ venue. We have standing room for 1000 guests. For our older friends who are coming to see Rodriguez, there are lots of spaces to stretch your feet, walk on the patio, talk to your friends, and then – step anywhere into the ballroom. The Crofoot sound system is one of the best sound systems in the Midwest. It will provide great listening – instruments and vocals — everywhere in the ballroom. You do not have to stand in front… guard your place…or worry about getting a special place… it’s all special.”   

Would that I could have received a similar guide for some of my past concerts:

For our truly middle-aged fans (come on, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re 28) coming to see Wilco, please note that others seated behind you would like to view and enjoy the show as much as you do. Please dance – if that’s what you call it – only in designated areas. It’s all special.

For our more mature friends coming to enjoy The Hives  (and we will refrain from asking why you are coming in the first place), please wear beer-proof, steel-toe footwear and attire that can withstand the perspiration of others. You do not have to stand in mosh pit territory in order to see the show, although it does afford the best view of the stage if those sweaty, tattooed meat heads would get out of the way. It’s all special.

And so on.

Rodriguez at the Crofoot

Right on time at 10:00 p.m., Rodriguez was guided to the stage for a 90-minute solo set. The crowd was adoring and the performer … well, he did his best. He doesn’t do a tight show: his vaguely philosophical/ political commentary rambled, and he repeated his best one-liners more than once. His musicianship has been hampered by time and personal health history: while his guitar-playing was essentially strong, his voice was not. By musical standards it was not a compelling evening of rock music. (His albums are a bit of an acquired taste in 2012, too, with the production a bit dated and dusty and the songs hewing a little too closely to Bob Dylan’s meandering style for my taste.)

And yet I heard someone standing behind me telling his companion, “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to … except maybe Sting.”

The experience overruled the music. The thousand of us were there to pay tribute to a man who’s been through a great deal and whose rock-and-roll Cinderella story resonates with many of us of a certain age and artistic sensibility. His current fame taps into our deep well of desire to be discovered. It gives us a subliminal sense of hope that fate might someday smile on us, making us the stars we know we could be if given the chance.

Next up for Rodriguez? Perhaps a trip to the Academy Awards. Only in America.

See you on the flip side …

 

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