On a Thursday night when the Chicago windchill descends to 40 degrees BELOW ZERO, it's nice to think about baseball. And in this day and age when everyone is bleeding cash, it's a positive experience to attend a charity event and give yourself a nice ego boost to balance the depression on viewing your checking account balance. With that in mind, the sold out benefit at the House of Blues benefiting Cubs kids charities had all bases covered.
Opening the show was Cubs fan Tom Morello, which seemed fitting. When it comes to putting together a children's' charity event, I've always claimed that the main ingredient is vitriolic political rock, especially when the inspiring anger solely revolves around a President who has less than a week left in office. Within Morello's set, he ripped through an cover of AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, but replaced the lyrics with new ones all about the Bush administration. My show-going colleague hit the nail on the head when she called it "The worst Weird Al song ever." Morello did better off ripping through an inspired version of Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad," then closed his set shouting through an angry 10-minute diatribe over "This Land Is Your Land," while an increasingly bored crowd waited it out.
With that unevenness behind, the giant novelty check was wheeled out claiming a donation of over $41,000 for the night. The applause was quickly drowned out by the Cubs rep remarking to the crowd that in the previous two years of this benefit, the Cubs have won two straight division titles. Surprisingly, this did not go over well with Cubs fans - it's almost like they want more than a division title! Another thing that's great about events like this in Chicago is that any time somebody mentions the Cubs at all, the Sox fans (about 1/3 of the crowd) vehemently boo. It's all very entertaining for a charity event.
Spirits were due for a pick up. Enter The Hold Steady. Not only is their most recent album title a constant motto for Cubs fans, but the band took to the stage and represented with flying colors for the children. Having seen this band five times in the last couple years, their evolution as stage musicians has been intriguing to see. When I saw them at the Music Mill in 2007, I dubbed them the heir apparent to Guided By Voices based on their sheer enjoyment of playing live, combined with the copious amounts of booze they consumed throughout the set. At each show since then, they've been drinking less, and sounding better. Who knew those two factors might be related?
As Andy Kindler accurately noted on the Late Show, it always seems odd that one of the most engaging frontmen in rock looks like he should be doing your taxes. Nobody leaves unaffected by Craig Finn's manic shuffling, including my show-going colleague who was inspired to buy their first two albums from the merch table after the show. The mundane stories of boys and girls in America consistently are transformed into epic tales of spirituality and self discovery, with sweeping guitar hooks and an almost embarrassingly optimistic view that "We can all be something bigger." The pure earnestness of the redemptive powers of music strip away even the most jaded cynicism, and it's a mesmerizing experience.
If that wasn't enough to get everyone on the same page, Finn proved he can unify through other methods. After kicking off the set by ripping through eight straight songs without a spare moment, Finn naturally took time to talk up the Twins, eventually reaching a truce with Cubs and Sox fans alike by pointing out that "at least we all hate the Yankees."
The Hold Steady - Constructive Summer (fan video)