A little less than a year ago, the Horseshoe Tavern was packed to the gills with aging but enthusiastic Hold Steady fans for a rambunctious four-night residency to celebrate the band's decade-long career and their latest LP, Teeth Dreams. Last night (October 17), frontman Craig Finn returned to that very same stage for something a little different. Touring in support of his sophomore one-man outing, Faith in the Future, the singer-songwriter was just as entertaining and awkwardly at ease on stage as ever.
The new music may be less rowdy than that of his regular gig, but Finn's solo material is just as jam packed with clever turns of phrase about crucifixion and detailed stories of down-and-out misfits from Minnesota to Memphis. Returning to his well-worn spot on the Horseshoe's stage, Finn was backed by a three-piece band (who, despite asking for suggestions from the audience, remained without a name by the end of the show). They were more than competent, but willing to let Finn steal the spotlight.
He did just that, ripping through the best of his solo stuff to date — a rootsy set-opening rendition of "Christine," dependable recent crowd pleasers like "Maggie, I've Been Searching for Our Son," EP-only cut "Three Drinks" and Clear Heart Full Eyes favourites "Jackson" and "Honolulu Blues." Finn was a typically compelling showman, charming the audience with anecdotes about his love for KISS and trying to keep Blue Jays baseball fans optimistic about their post-season comeback potential.
Live highlight "Newmyer's Roof" was prefaced with a rehearsed but nevertheless touching account of his personal experience during the 9/11 attacks and how it led him to finding love. Throwing longtime fans a bone, Finn then played a solo, acoustic version of (his earliest band) Lifter Puller's "Mission Viejo" and followed it up shortly thereafter with classic Hold Steady anthem "Certain Songs."
Despite the warmly received nods to the past, when the band closed with Faith in the Future's "I Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died)," it was clear that the crowd had faith in Finn's songwriting talent regardless of the moniker on the marquee. It is likely that his fan base will remain one primarily made up of dedicated Hold Steady followers that are grown up and ready to mellow out a bit, but that didn't stop him from treating the Toronto crowd to a solid live show. They should be so lucky to mature from years of hard-partying rock'n'roll as gracefully as Finn himself has.