I’ve seen The Hold Steady live five times in the past decade, which doesn’t seem like much, but considering that I don’t get out to see shows that much anymore, it’s a pretty fair amount.
And at least two of them were among the greatest shows I’ll ever see: opening for the Replacements in 2014, and of course, 2008’s rock ‘n’ roll lovefest with the Drive-by Truckers, which I wrote about totally hungover while sitting on the floor of the Virgin terminal at LAX waiting for an early flight to Seattle, where we were going to spend Thanksgiving.
During that show with DBT, it was “Magazines” — which starts off with big-ass sustained Who power chords filled with massive amounts of space — that prompted me to write this:
There was a moment last night where they came out of a roaring version “The Swish,” which is probably my favorite song this decade, and went directly into “Magazines,” and it was like I’d never ever heard rock & roll before in my entire life.
I was starting over: I was 15 and discovering The Clash, I was 25 and the Replacements were saving my life. I was NOT 35 and getting sick of the hassle of going to shows; and I sure as shit wasn’t 45, knowing how much planning it took just to get to the show and how much it was going to take out of me the next day.
That’s the power that The Hold Steady wield, at least for me: the ability for me to momentarily transcend everything and just not thing about anything but the moment in which I’m living.
And it probably came down to something as simple as the contrast between the way “The Swish” just ends and “Magazines” crashes into its beginning, always angling towards its call-and-response chorus.
Magazines and daddy issues
I know you’re pretty pissed,
I hope you’ll still let me kiss you
(Magazines and daddy issues
I know you’re pretty pissed
I hope you’ll still let me kiss you)
As a song, “Magazines” lives on the tension between its stop-filled verses — guitars slamming against invisible walls, keyboards trying to figure where to go next — and that chorus, detailing one last relationship on the verge of imploding.
In the end, as “Magazines” builds and fades and crests and flows, you can be excused if you figure that no matter how down and weary Finn sounds as he’s singing this song, the music itself will sustain their relationship, even as you realize it probably won’t.
“Magazines” performed live in 2009
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