Craig Finn @ Maxwell’s

HOBOKEN, NJ—During my drive to Maxwell’s on March 1, I couldn’t believe the day had arrived that I would be seeing Craig Finn perform live and in person. The lead singer of the rock group The Hold Steady released a solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, in January and has been touring the country to support it since February.

Sometime around 9 p.m., the opening act, a NYC-based illustrator and musician Marcellus Hall and his band The Hostages took to the stage and had the room moving with Hall’s gritty, Southern rock and Americana style. Hall was the frontman for White Hassle and Railroad Jerk and is an excellent fit in the opening slot for a week on Finn’s tour. The singer-songwriter played tracks off of his new release, The First Line, such as “Star Position,” “The First Line” and “It’s My Life.” The crowd responded positively to Hall and after his last song, “Soulmate,” a few people even called out for an encore.

After Hall and The Hostages cleared the stage, Finn’s group set up the Maxwell’s stage for themselves and I found a spot as close to the stage as I could. Admittedly, my anticipation and excitement about seeing Finn live may have been over the top, especially because I had mixed feelings about Clear Heart but I also had hopes that Finn might play some Hold Steady material that doesn’t require a full band, like “Citrus.”

Finn’s way of conveying a story on stage by half-talking half-singing transferred well on stage and as Finn moved through the set I could tell that the stage was home for him. After the opening song, “No Future,” Finn introduced himself and told the audience how he has always dreamed of being in a band that has its own theme song.

“Black Sabbath has ‘Black Sabbath,’ The Descendents have ‘The Descendents,’” Finn explained as he introduced his band, Some Guns, and their subsequent theme song, “Some Guns.”

One of the guitarists moved to the pedal steel and songs like “Apollo Bay,” inspired by some time that Finn spent by himself in a remote area of Australia, came through harder, stronger and more emotional on stage. Hearing songs like “Balcony” and “Terrified Eyes” played live struck a new found appreciation for them within me.

Finn gave Some Guns a break and played a few small songs by himself. One called “The Dudes From St. Paul,” had the crowd cracking up with lines like, “When those dudes from St. Paul were hitting your front door with a hammer/You said very little/You hid under the table/I think you said a prayer.”

For the second set, Finn played a lot of my personal favorites off of Clear Heart. The audience sang along to “New Friend Jesus” before Finn moved into “Western Pier” and “Honolulu Blues.” To slow the set down, Finn played “Rented Room,” which he mentioned is one of his mother’s favorite songs off of the album. To pick things up and wrap up the show for night, Finn and Some Guns closed the show with a great cover of Bobby Charles’ “Save Me Jesus.”

Of course, no show would be complete without an encore but because of the way Maxwell’s is set up, it’s difficult to execute an effective walk-off and subsequent walk-on, so Finn and Some Guns skipped the usual encore protocol and officially ended the night with “Not Much Left.”

I walked out of Maxwell’s that night completely elated and glad that I had jumped on the opportunity to see one of my favorite singer/songwriters without The Hold Steady. The show allowed for a more intimate time with Finn. I think his comfort on the stage really helped me gain a new appreciation for his solo work, and while I’m still not a fan of Clear Heart, at least I know what these songs can potentially sound like when given the opportunity to be played live.