The Hold Steady are not kids' musicians.
This will come as a shock to absolutely nobody, but I felt like stating that before explaining exactly why I thought a brief review of The Hold Steady's Saturday night show at the Brickhouse in Phoenix was appropriate for this site.
Goodness knows that the lyrical content of the band's songs are NSFK. If Craig Finn had lent his hand to popular kids' songs, Mary would have developed a nasty heroin habit after Little Boy Blue sold her lamb to pay off a gambling debt incurred somewhere in St. Anthony Falls. (It would've sounded awesome, though.) As Finn quipped when noting that they'd be playing Vegas the next night, a city they'd never played before, "I enjoy a lot of vices, but gambling's not one of them. But here's a song about it." And then they launched into "Chips Ahoy!"
I'm rapidly approaching that point in my life where rock concertgoing involves serious cost-benefit analysis, and of course I treat it in such a way that my younger self would've mocked. Avoid the alcohol because it'll mess up my sleep? Check. Wear comfortable shoes? Check. Use earplugs? Check. My younger self? Heck, the band would've mocked me. (Except for the earplugs part.)
But the show was worth it, in large part due to Finn's energetic showmanship, muttering to himself, leading the crowd in singalongs, encouraging them to clap along, dragged the crowd by force of will alone. It was oddly reminiscent of... wait for it... Dan Zanes.
Remember that concert down in Tucson? Yeah, well, for the first twenty minutes Zanes, like Finn, pleaded, cajoled, and begged the crowd to get into the show, and by the end of the show, they were completely part of the experience. (Finn isn't hurt by having four very talented musicians helping him to put his words into energetic songs.)
I doubt the Hold Steady and Dan Zanes, even though they both call Brooklyn home, would get together to just play music. Heck, keyboardist Franz Nicolay founded the "Anti-Social Music" collective, while Zanes almost called his Catch That Train! album "Social Music."
But they do share an infectious joy in performing, something that Finn noted from the stage. I'm sure it's something he says at the end of many shows, but seeing Finn grin for most of the concert made it easy to believe him when he said that "There's a lot of joy in performing up here." It's a sentiment that Zanes would agree with completely.
And one of these days when Finn settles down a bit and decides to write about people becoming (probably bad) parents, perhaps he can sing about getting home from the club at 1 AM and being woken up at 5:30 AM by the kids.
Harrowing, I tell you.