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His two-handed handshake says he's so glad to meet you...

November 14th, 2008

I admit, going into the show, to having little interest in The Hold Steady. In spite of years of discovering fantastic companion bands, I had no interest in this group of musicians with whom the Drive-By Truckers had chosen to co-headline. I didn't know their music and I'd only heard the name in passing. I'd experienced a long day at work and had been abandoned by my concert companion, forcing me to drive alone the two hours to Chicago in order to take in one of my favorite live acts. I was a little angsty, a lot whiny, and completely unwilling to put in the effort required to "discover" a new artist. I know, I know, I was a little emo (do the kids still say emo?).

As it was, I arrived late, missing the majority of DBT's set (theirs being the first act of the night) and finding only marginal viewing positions available in the Riviera Theater, the sold-out crowd having long since filled the multi-layered, standing-room only venue.

I've spent years of my life making long, lonely drives from small-town Michigan to nearby cities (nearby=minimum two hour drive) for the sake of catching perhaps half of the travel times worth of artists pouring their heart onto a stage. For the sake of losing myself in a crowd of punks and strangers, moshing and dancing. For the sake of screaming at the top of my lungs with the band (and my fellow fans) the lyrics that mapped the trails of my soul.

I've attended, without exaggeration, hundreds of live shows. While attending college, I would sit in class, watching the clock count down to the end of session, sometimes not even waiting that long (sorry, Mom) so I could toss my books in the back seat, crank down the windows, dial high the stereo and speed down I94 toward the Windy City. Or turn the other direction for Detroit. Grand Rapids. Milwaukee. Madison. Rockford. A barn in the Chicago suburbs. A basement in a church in the Motor City.

I've made those drives to see sold-out shows from acts with radio hits and late night TV appearances and I've made those drives to see musicians who had decided their band name an hour before the show, their kid sister selling home-burned, Sharpie labeled CDs from a folding table in the corner.

I guess what I'm saying is, I love live music. Passion is an appropriate word to describe my relationship with these shows. My troubles dissolve. I sort out my feelings (or maybe just eject them in a screaming torrent). I shift out of my individuality and dive into the energy of the people and the world around me. When the shows are good, which is usually, they are paradise. But when my day has gone terrible, my attitude is ugly and the concert escape doesn't follow my itinerary, well, I don't exactly commune with the universe any longer.

The Truckers finished their set, two songs after I'd arrived, and I crumbled, defeated, into a soft-looking chair placed curiously along one of the balcony walkways.

It would be no fun to view the rest of the show, this band I didn't know, from the angles I had available and I wasn't in the mood to bully my way into the crowded pit, so once this other band, this "the Hold Steady" arrived on stage, I took to wandering the building. It's an excellent property, the Riviera, the multiple balconies, the maze of stairs and levels hidden among the layers of architecture.

I wandered. I lost myself in the beauty of the building. Unknowingly, I released the control I'd been desperately attempting to grasp over the entirety of this day.

When I came back to myself, I was peering over a balcony, staring at the crowd below. I couldn't say for certain how long I'd stood that way. I know what it was that took me there.

The music had taken the crowd and, for once, I wasn't among them. I wasn't even observing the band, as the angle from above let me see only the audience and none of the people on stage.

I watched myself down on the floor. I was the shirtless teenager pushing people down and then helping them back up in the mosh pit. I was the wallflower nodding his head from the corner. I was the guy holding his girlfriend at the back of the crowd, singing the lyrics as if they were the anthem of life, which, for him, they likely were.

I'd gotten the chance to witness, as an unattached observer, the magic that continued to draw me to show after show. To appreciate those experiences from a new angle. Not to mention, it dawned on me that the Hold Steady were a damn fine band. And I remembered that I should probably just suck it up next time and enjoy what's in front of me.

Did he just reference Joe Strummer as a saint?

Was that a Springsteen cover?!

..let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger..

Man, I need to get down there.

Check out The Hold Steady on


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