I’m offering this simple question to indie kids from ages one to twenty-two: How are you not losing your collective shit over the new Calla album, Collisions? I mean, sure, Calla isn’t hewing to current trends like “freak-folk” or “being Canadian,” instead throwing in their lot with musical trends already being eulogized on VH-1. But you guys love anti-heroes! Sure, there’s a couple tracks that scream to the heavens, “Track Forward! Track Forward!” But when did that stop you from anointing a new darling?
The answers have less to do with the music Calla makes and more to do with the path they’ve taken to get there. Calla likes to do things backwards. They messed around in the studio, then became a live band; they started out with experimental leanings, then went rock. And they’ve been around since at least ’97, somehow making sad, dense music before Livejournal even existed. And here they were, playing a bar show on the Sunday night before Halloween.
Fresh off a series of Target commercials, a gushfest on NPR, a run through the late-night talk show circuit, and even a namedrop on Lost, The Hold Steady rolled into Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium as the unlikeliest heroes among the crop of indie rock bands currently threatening to Deathcab it on through to the other side. With their chunky glasses, monstrous classic-rock riffs, abrasive vocals, religious allusions, and even a receding hairline or two, The Hold Steady don’t exactly give off a “ready for primetime” kind of vibe. All of this just makes the inkling of success sweeter. If you find “Charlemagne in Sweatpants” on the soundtrack to next Cameron Crowe movie, it won’t be because The Hold Steady made something easy and inoffensive. It will be because the system worked for once. It will be because they are too good to ignore.
The Hold Steady hewed to rock-show convention by opening with Track One/Side One (“Hornets! Hornets!”) of their new album (Separation Sunday). Critics of this band often try to have it both ways, acknowledging the band itself on technical merits, but hemming and hawing about frontman Craig Finn, thinking him “whiny,” or “nasal,” or just overly chatty. But as soon as Finn howled out the opening lines to “Hornets! Hornets!” before the band broke in, it was clear that, in this rare case, “band” and “frontman” aren’t at all separable. The band made Logan Square Auditorium’s weird ballroom ring out with their Replacements-via-Bad-Company, rock-with-an-aw bombast. I’ve seen plenty of good bands flounder at the LSA, a place with a rep for bad sound. I can’t stress enough what an odd venue this hardwood, second-floor reception hall is for a rock show. On the other hand, I hear they had a quinceañera here in 2002 that absolutely turned the motherfucker out.