Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers mean well

A review of The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers at the Orpheum Theatre on November 9

, Staff Writer

If anyone is concerned, the state of rock n’ roll is just fine. Sunday night was a loud one downtown, and while AC/DC was saluting those of us about to rock (and surely more than a few who’s rocking days are long past them) at the Garden, Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady assured the Orpheum’s capacity crowd that the future of rock music is bright, heavy and loud.&

The Truckers and The Hold Steady are in the midst of a national tour, trading headline spots and promoting a simple message: Rock & Roll Means Well. Sunday’s show saw Drive-By Truckers in the opening slot, and the southern jammers put on a 90-minute set fronted by a roaring three-guitar attack. The set focused on material from the band’s latest album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, but dropped a few old crowd pleasers like “Big Bubba” and “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” in the mix as well.&

Soaked in whiskey and southern soul and sharing vocal duties throughout the set, guitarists/vocalists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley spun yarns about drifters, drinkers, and the healing power of rock n’ roll. “Rock music saved my life, and keeps saving it today,” mused Hood before the band launched into “Let There Be Rock”. The Truckers were joined by Hold Steady guitarist Tad Kubler to close things out with “18 Wheels of Love”.

Drive-By Truckers put on an amazing show, and the energy in the room was electric as The Hold Steady took the stage, tearing into “Stay Positive”, from their latest album of the same name, and for nearly two hours played great song after great song. Finally. A rock show featuring rock bands. I mean real rock bands, sweaty guys with battered guitars who slug whiskey onstage and don’t phone in a Sunday night show. The crowd was ready to party, and The Hold Steady took the fire lit by the Truckers and fed it until the flames roared.&

Singer/guitarist Craig Finn bolted all over the stage, pulsating hyperactively and snarling into the microphone like some kind of hybrid of Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay (in a snappy suit and cap, by far the best-dressed person at the venue) manages to exude endless bounce even while staying behind his instrument. His playing brings balance to the Hold Steady’s otherwise raw sound, which is best illustrated in songs like “One for the Cutters” and “First Night”.

Comparisons between Finn and Springsteen are apparent in his songwriting, which tends towards narratives about small-town kids doing whatever they can to survive growing up in isolation and confusion. “ Massive Nights” is an anthem to the rural rock n’ roll scene, while “One for the Cutters” describes a college coed’s experiences partying with townies (If you went to one of those colleges in a quaint New England village, you’ll relate to this one). “Chillout Tent” is about two kids who take too many drugs, then hook up in a hospital bed. The four Hold Steady albums tell a loose narrative circling around a cast of characters. Sunday night’s show didn’t feature much storytelling, but it didn’t need to. The jumping, rowdy crowd, the split beer bottles onstage, and the overabundance of loud guitars told the story loud and clear. Rock music is alive and well.&

The majority of the Drive-By Truckers joined the Hold Steady for an encore performance of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”, “Look Out Cleveland”, and “Chillout Tent”. Before closing the night with “Killer Parties”, frontman Craig Finn addressed the crowd: “A wiser man than me already said it, but at least I’m smart enough to repeat it”, he told the screaming crowd, “Rock & Roll means well, but it can’t help but give young boys bad advice.” And in this world, a little bad advice can go a long way.

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