Craig Finn at Triple Rock Social Club, 02/04/12

Craig Finn
With Mount Moriah
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Saturday, February 4, 2012

Any Craig Finn performance in Minneapolis is a sea of talking points -- and he went through most of them Saturday in front of an attentive Triple Rock crowd. This is the home of 86 percent of Finn's lyrical references, and it was Lifter Puller who played the venue's opening gig back in 2003. However, nostalgic entreaties for nostalgia were met firmly with: "We ain't gonna go there -- don't even bother." Slugging a Pabst, lifting up Groucho Marx eyebrows, and grinning like Peter Sellers imitating the Cheshire Cat, Finn kept the focus on his new solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, and an audience of the converted smiled along despite it being "a bunch of sad songs to bum you out."

People still got the Craig Finn that they expected to get. Even with material that he has remarked aspires to Low's diminished decibels, the excitable frontman still carried a pair of gin blossoms on his cheeks, spittle formed at the corners of his mouth, and he stabbed at the air with his arms like they were machetes. What proved to be the unexpected twist of the night was his backing band, which notched its fifth performance that evening. Although it feels like every band that stops in Minneapolis these days is obliged to bring a pedal steel -- we're waiting, Megadeth -- Finn's new brethren from Austin might be an even better pairing for his songwriting than any previous outfits.

Craig Finn at Triple Rock Social Club, 02/04/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Of course, it depends how heavily a fan leans on the witticisms, the in-jokes, and the tales of drugs/relationships gone terribly wrong. A comfortable level of twang, harmonizing, and acoustic rumblings from "Craig Finn and Some Guns" surrounded sentiments like "you shouldn't try and fall in love when you're going to a show." They framed the lyrics in a way that couldn't help but bring sighs of agreement from the crowd. Perhaps we've been too busy pouring beer down each others' backs in the past to grasp these moments the way the man with the reddish acoustic would like.

Finn prefaced the song "Dudes from St. Paul" with a reminiscence for area hardcore staples Blind Approach, and the song turned out to be about punk -- two young lovers hiding in a house from some goons -- but with none of the vitriolic backing.

Craig Finn at Triple Rock Social Club, 02/04/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Similarly, opener Mount Moriah from Chapel Hill brought earnest folk arrangements, and even more earnest lyrics to launch the evening. Draped in denim, singer Heather McEntire thanked the crowd for being so quiet midway through. With Rilo Kiley long dead and buried, it's exciting to see another strong female-fronted group enter the fold with the intensity McEntire unfurled for "The Letting Go."

It proved to set the tone better than perhaps Art Brut would have for the rich Americana spirit lurking in Craig Finn's latest work. It's just a shame he wasn't wearing a flannel shirt. Guitarist and master of the aforementioned pedal steel Ricky Ray Jackson, guitarist James Stevens, bassist Alex Livingstone, and drummer Falcon Valdez aren't trying to blow your head off, or bring about a bar-band buzz, but paid utmost attention to tone, tempo, and dynamics.

By "Not Much Left of Us," there was not much left of Craig Finn, and not many more solo songs to play, and he had sweat droplets on his cheeks and slouched up to the mic a little more. Before a new song called "Sarah, I'm Surrounded," he mentioned that there are already lots of songs about moving to the big city (especially in his own back catalog), and the one to follow would be a song about leaving the big city. But whatever reclamation this local legend would attain by actually moving back to the Twin Cities -- if that is really what he was talking about -- still would never be the same reality of the 2003 era anyhow. He put it best as he sang, "My attempt at reinvention's getting fucked by the facts."

Critic's Notebook

Overheard: "Those are the worst T-shirts I've ever seen. I wouldn't wear them if they were free."

Craig Finn at Triple Rock Social Club, 02/04/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Personal bias: The enormous banner featuring Finn's album art hanging behind the stage made the eyeball in the center of the album art look like the Target logo.

Craig Finn Setlist
Apollo Baby
No Future
No One's Watching
Some Guns
Western Pier
New Friend Jesus
Sarah, I'm Surrounded (new song)
Jeremiah Solo (new song)
Dudes From St. Paul (new song)
Going to a Show (new song)
Honolulu Blues
Rented Room
Terrified Eyes
Not Much Left of Us
Man on the Run (new song)

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