Monday, October 1, 2012
Colonial Theater, Keene, New Hampshire
The announcement came just a few days before, but the news was truly exciting and entered my Inbox just in time. Two of America’s greatest songwriters, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) and Craig Finn (of the Hold Steady) were headed to the small college town of Keene, New Hampshire to support Obama and urge people to vote in the upcoming election.
Jim has long been an Obama advocate, performing several shows during the last election, and even being asked to play the President’s Tree Lighting Ceremony two years back.
Obama wasn’t in attendence tonight, but the music had a mission and the setting and songs were perfect for the eager crowd. The songwriters urged people to vote, and let them know their pick, but weren’t preachy or condemning of any particular candidate. The message was if you learn the facts, you’ll see the clear choice.
Not a far drive from Boston, I hit the road and headed northwest to Keene, New Hampshire, braving the dark and winding roads to get to the theater where my free ticket didn’t even guarantee admission. Luckily, I got in with no problem, and despite being late, I was just in time for Craig Finn’s opening set.
The wordy, academic voice of the gutter and those who strayed from the narrow path, Finn and the Hold Steady are the most prolific and poet storytellers of the darkside of temptation. They speak of the interesting characters of excess who make life all the more interesting, scary and shady.
Playing solo tonight, Finn focused on songs from last year’s solo record, Clear Heart Full Eyes. Known mostly as the dancing and animated frontman, tonight he seemed a bit more serious and somber with just an acoustic guitar by his side. The audience seemed quite familiar with his work and followed every word and note like they were biblical passages.
Jim James was up next. Joined by My Morning Jacket comrade and guitarist, Carl Broemel, the two turned a quiet set into a beautiful execution of spot-on harmonies with pedal steel and acoustic guitars merging in beautiful unison.
With a set spanning most of their discography, they began with “Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You”, a deep cut from their debut record Tennessee Fire, and a song Jim has gone on to redefine by showcasing his Omnichord as the main instrumentation.
Running through some of their more acoustic highlights, the band performed “Wonderful” and “Bermuda Highway” and “Hopefully” taking the listener through true delights of rare stripped down masterpieces.
When they went into “Look at You”, you couldn’t help but realize the song’s special significance tonight. Look at You/Such a Fine Citizen/Look at you, you/ such a glowing example/Of peace and glory, glory, glory/Of peace and glory, glory, glory/And let me follow you/We believe in your power to lead without fear/Not above, in some tower/But here right down here with us in this world. Up until this moment I had never seen the song as political, but in this setting, how could you not?
From there it was back to more classics from older records as the band went on to “The Way That He Sings”, “Wonderful Man” and “I Will be There When You Die”.
A true special highlight came during the Jim’s rendition of “Golden” where Craig Finn appeared mid-song to take on a verse and chorus. Seeing the two in their first ever duet, with such separate singing styles is surely something to be seen. And you can right now.
From Broemel’s bowing of his guitar, the soft scream of his pedal steel coupled with Jim’s kind words and magical, humbled and grounded view of politics and the future, the two expounded a sedate strength, hope and positivity in their songs that made the night a true and meaningful experience. Granted most of the people in the audience already knew whom they would vote for, perhaps the show encouraged a view people to register to vote, or maybe feel the power of their own voice.