Craig Finn, Mount Moriah, Beau Jennings & the Tigers Dada Wednesday, February 1
Craig Finn stepped on stage with his four bandmates and declared, "I'm Craig Finn. This is my band. We need a name."
Serving as the opening date for a two-month tour ahead of them, the erstwhile Hold Steady frontman was in his usual jovial and conversational mood. An acoustic guitar was strapped to him the entire time and, unlike the last time The Hold Steady came to town, he actually played it throughout the set.
Recalling the kind of stage moves Elvis Costello did with The Attractions in the late '70s, Finn did more than vocalize his stories. Tossing his arms and pointing every once in a while as the words came out of him, this was expected for longtime Hold Steady fans.
For 70 minutes, Finn performed every song off his 11-song solo debut, Clear Heart Full Eyes, which was recorded in Austin, and thankfully had time to add five non-LP songs, including "Jeremiah's Blues" and "Sarah, I'm Surrounded." For those who have heard his record, the live performance was an exact replica.
Sounding like the softer songs from The Hold Steady's last record, Heaven Is Whenever, with sprinklings of old country thrown in, Finn's newly assembled backing band performed admirably. Stage-right guitarist Ricky Ray Jackson did a couple of trips to the pedal steel, and stage-left guitarist James Stevens (on loan from the excellent Austin-based Moonlight Towers) sang harmonies for the first time with Finn. Bassist Alex Livingstone kept his parts basic while drummer Falcon Valdez made complicated beats sound simple.
Since this was a smaller affair (Dada was only a quarter full, oddly), Finn occasionally took time out between songs to share the back stories. From talking about a guy he knew who became a pimp to having roommates in your mid-30s, he didn't talk too long and let the songs fade up.
The flow of the set came across as a well thought-out presentation. Unreleased songs mixed well with the Clear Heart Full Eyes material, especially the rocker "Rented Room." The sparest and calmest material was saved towards the end, when most of the band left the stage. Alone for one song, Finn quietly sang about falling in love when you're going to a show. This was definitely a highlight.
Earlier, both opening acts had to compete with a chunk of the crowd glued to the Mavericks game on the TV. Occasional shouts of joy came and went during Mount Moriah's set when the Mavs got close to winning but, alas, it was not meant to be.
Beau Jennings & the Tigers felt like direct offspring of Uncle Tupelo and Lucero during their 30-minute set. Mount Moriah, playing for the first time in Dallas, had sweet male and female harmonies going for them, but an overwhelming majority of the audience decided to talk over their set.
Personal bias: I'm a huge fan of The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America and Stay Positive, but I applaud Finn for taking a different approach with his solo material. Nobody can stay on E Street forever.
Random note: So, the audience size. What happened there? I thought the place would be packed, especially since the Granada was when The Hold Steady came through in 2010. The show started a little before 9 p.m. and was over a little after 11:30 p.m., so it wasn't a matter of being a late show.
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