Monday, June 15, 2009

The Hold Steady

Driving through Lisle, New York on our way to Ithaca, we see a sign that reads “Father’s Day Cooked In Ground Beef.” The houses lean and sigh, look as if they’d like to exhale some of their incorrect geometry answers. Drying impatiens swing from flowerpots on sprawling porches, a backhoe digs up grass for next week’s “Mud Bog.” Trees flash by greengreengreen – a sign to drive faster and just go.

The music we hear that night in a cramped bar makes me want to get into a car and drive with the windows rolled down. I want to visit a place I love but don’t know yet. The lyrics remind me of postcards from a friend I don’t have, but whose words I crave in his or her scrawl.

At the door, my ID is checked (wow). The bouncer has taken the gauges out of his ears, and they speak a relaxed “O, O.” Most of the crowd is younger than we are, but not by much. Maybe five or ten years, and then there are a handful of really young music lovers whose hands are branded with big black Sharpie X’s, making them visible to the bartenders. I watch a skinny teen grin as he enters, then cross his arms to hide his brand from all the college girls. Castaways is packed by nine p.m. when the opening band starts to play. A few people sway, but most still talk and drink their beers. I watch the continual stream of people enter and get their wristbands Humanity is diverse. Where do all these people come from? Dreads, skinny jeans, grey hair, pink stockings with polka dot shoes, overweight, girls who remind me of all my sister’s college friends, purple hair, no hair, quiet, sad eyed.

During the performance of The Hold Steady, I jump, dance, clap and revel behind a frat boy and his friend who like to jump, clap and dance too, only with more vigor, elbows and heavy feet. A high school girl and her boyfriend who look like they’ve stepped out of a Hollister ad try to wriggle their way through the crowd but their charm doesn’t get them far and they get stuck just a few ahead of us. When the music starts and people scream and jump around, they become as still as frightened deer. A young man just in front of me stands for most of the show looking like a cross between a Dr. Seuss character and a 1950’s sitcom father until his favorite song is played and then he leaps and pumps his fist in the air. Beer is sprayed, confetti cheers and settles onto the sweaty breasts of young women. Jim goes into a ecstatic trance for most of the show and loses his voice. I feel the sweat drip off his arm. Matt swings his head and his hair sweeps like pages in a book. He whoops and raises his arms as if every song is a touchdown, which it is. Dan listens to every lyric, squeezes my hand. The Hold Steady hold steady with charisma. Feet peek above heads in front as a body is carried through the crowd. The encore is a half an hour long. The bar is sticky, packed, and full of positive energy. Joy. The music makes me want to visit a place I love but don’t know yet, because its rooms and landscapes are now a place I love and know. Oh to be 40 forever.

1 comment:

Shaun Hopkins said...

Oh, to be 35 forever.... hehehhh... Your description of the winding roads enroute to Ithica are spot on. They really bring back some memories. In fact, this had been a rather special quest of sorts... I had traveled many-a-mile to see bands in the past, but earlier in my life, I had made a rather meaningless comment to my wife at the time that I absolutely MUST see three bands before I die - The Figgs, The Ike Reilly Assassination and the Hold Steady. Ironically enough, shortly after the New Year celebration of 2009 (Jan 3), I was critically injured in an 11-car pile-up in which I broke my neck (hangman's fracture - same as Christopher Reeve suffered) and was given a 99.9% of death or, should I be lucky enough, a paraplegic on a respirator for life. I was even read my Last Rites! :-) Amazingly, I beat the 99.9% odds and I was out of the hospital in a neck brace in less than two weeks! The flood of emotions brought on by the brush with death lead to a short-lived reuniting with my wife, and when my 35th birthday-that-almost-wasn't rolled around on April 23, she wanted to give me something really special. Remembering the bands I wanted to see (the Hold Steady were already big and touring the southeast, so we had seen already. Nonetheless they are a favorite of both of us). So figuring that the Figgs were the favorite band I had never seen, we noticed that they were playing at a house party in New Jersey 6/13/09 and what do ya know...... The Hold Steady are playing two nights later in Ithica! Though my wife and I are again separated, we are on good terms, and the show in that steamy little boathouse was well worth the drive up from Georgia... The energy was fantastic. The band hung out and drank, bbq'ed, threw footballs and frisbees early into the morn, and a great time was had by all....