Saturday, November 15, 2008

The North and South of Modern American Music

Concert Review
Drive-By Truckers @@@1/2
The Hold Steady @@@1/2
November 14, 2008
Riviera Theatre Chicago

Two acclaimed modern American rock bands sharing a co-headlining double bill called "Rock and Roll Means Well." Just $26.50 ($40 after all the Ticketmaster insanity) in a relatively small venue, but one where I could sit comfortably all night. One band currently based in Brooklyn, The Hold Steady, and the other from Athens, GA, Drive-By Truckers, both--as you can see from the links to All Music Guide--with several highly-rated albums, the two most recent of each band I have and like. Both with a solid reputation as live acts (I had seen the DBTs in an opening slot once before and enjoyed them).

So you'd think it would be an absolutely wonderful evening, right? Well in one regard, sure, it was highly enjoyable. The bands combined to play for 3 hours, both seemed to genuinely love what they were doing, both had unquestioned integrity, both were very good and were rabidly received by the sold-out crowd. So just as an evening of music, a good time so to speak, I'd give it a big thumbs up.

But the problem was, much as I wanted to, I couldn't call either band truly great. Drive-by Truckers were solid, occasionally inspired, but in the end, somewhat lacking in "oh wow!" moments. The Hold Steady were highly energetic with a number of fun, crowd-pleasing songs. But honestly, a half-hour would have been enough. Lead singer Craig Finn's spastic, even dorky, rock moves, unique voice and quirky songs grew tiresome after awhile (Here's a YouTube video from a recent show, not Chicago, that may give you an idea of what I mean. Especially if you watch it and others for over an hour).

OK, so it was a good show, but not awesome. Going in, would I have expected it to match or top other concerts I've enjoyed this year, by Springsteen, REM, AC/DC, The Cure, Van Halen, Ray Davies, Steely Dan or The Eagles? Probably not, so what's the problem?

Well, as someone who cares about the state of rock and roll, even specifically the state of American rock and roll, and even at 40 would love to keep seeing rock shows as long as I comfortably can (which typically means in places with at least some seats), I've been wondering who's going to replace the geezers like those mentioned above.

And if the Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers, who openly cite Springsteen and the Replacements as influences, who are already 4 and 8 acclaimed albums into their careers and who I generally like, are--by a great distance--subpar as live acts to bands whose members are all well over 50--and even getting long-in-the-tooth grunge-era remnants like Pearl Jam, Radiohead and Foo Fighters--it seems that rock and roll as I know and like it, may soon be dead.

And that, much more than this specific show in itself, is very disappointing.

My only hope is that the Guitar Hero phenomenon, which clearly explains the number of kids under 12 at the recent AC/DC show, will forment a new wave of bands that may ultimately resurrect American rock and roll.

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