Everything They Do (They Do It For You)
By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2005 7:26PM
Some might say the best rock and/or roll is performed atop monster riffs saddled by cigarette choked squawks. Chicagoist would never agree with such an overgeneralization but we do enjoy a good bar band. We like them even better when the music is surprisingly smart and those monster riffs come loaded with surprisingly literate vocals detailing stories filled with dirt, grime and - most importantly – redemption.
The Hold Steady knows plenty about seeking redemption. Leader Craig Finn left Minneapolis after the demise of the critically lauded but largely unknown band he was heading at the time, Lifter Puller, and moved to New York. This set the stage for a promising second-act as Finn regrouped, recruited and ended up with a group sounding like Charles Bukowski on a pocketful of AC/DC uppers. We mean this as a compliment. The debut album Almost Killed Me was surprisingly one of the best and biggest sounding yet least heard albums in 2004, but that didn't stop Finn from crafting the follow-up in the form of a rock opera. Okay, maybe opera is too heavy a term but I think it's safe to call Separation Sunday a loose narrative following junkies and hoodrats stumbling down the steps of religion with such epiphanies as these lines from "Cattle and the Creeping Things":
She said: I was seeing double for 3 straight days after I got born again. It felt strange but it was nice and peaceful. It really pleased me to be around so many people. Of course half were just visions, but half of them were friends from going through the program with me. Later on we did some sexy things. Took a couple photographs and carved them into wood reliefs.
And all that's told over a riff that makes us want to punch our fists in the air. Songs built on pathos are useless without the memory of life's capacity for joy providing stark relief. Craig Finn knows this and expertly crafts tunes that make us want to live hard and cry young.