NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 11: Singer Craig Finn and The Hold Steady perform at ‘A New York Evening With The Hold Steady’, moderated by Seth Meyers at National Sawdust on May 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
For most acts playing the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, it’s just one more stop on the tour, no matter how much they tweak their stage banter to tailor it to a Twin Cities audience. But Saturday night’s show felt like a genuine celebration of the local music scene, specifically the kind of punk-flavored bands that have germinated and bloomed in sweaty little rooms like the Seventh Street Entry, 400 Bar and Triple Rock Social Club.
Yes, it was homecoming night at the Grandstand, and what a grand celebration of the scene it was for the 5,909 in attendance. Headlining was the Hold Steady, a band that may have formed in New York City in 2001, but spins stories in song that are almost all about growing up in the Twin Cities, as lyricist and lead singer Craig Finn is an Edina product.
Preceding them to the stage was a legend of the local scene 10 years Finn’s elder, Bob Mould, the guitarist for Husker Du who helped establish thunderous thrashing punk as a Minnesota export. His band has long been regarded as one of rock’s most important acts of the ‘80s, and Mould demonstrated Saturday that he still has much of the old explosiveness.
And opening the evening was a cathartic set full of high-velocity rock from Dillinger Four, which was a ubiquitous presence in local clubs in the ‘90s and ‘00s — including the Triple Rock, which was owned and operated by one of the band’s guitarists, Erik Funk — but is seldom seen since.
For those who felt that the Grandstand hadn’t sufficiently rocked this year, Saturday night’s show was the ideal guitar-powered party, full of aggression and release, emotions and energy bursting forth like the fireworks that have been concluding every concert. And it was particularly gratifying that so much of it was delivered by middle-aged musicians who have much to teach younger artists about how to pour passion into a performance.
Such as the Hold Steady, a sextet with a sound that’s clearly descended from what Husker Du and the Replacements were playing in local clubs back in the ‘80s, but with healthy dollops of other influences, such as the Band and Bruce Springsteen. Frontman Finn seemed so overjoyed to be back in his native metropolis that he spent much of the first few numbers throwing his arms wide open and smiling with glee.
And the band sounded great throughout its 100-minute set, mixing material from throughout its 20 years together. But the new songs were particularly strong, as “Sideways Skull” and “Carlos is Crying” demonstrated that Finn might be getting better and better as a songsmith.
While the Hold Steady has a very full sound, what with three guitars, a bass, keyboards, drums and a horn section, Mould kept things quite elemental with the same instrumentation that Husker Du had: guitar, bass and drums. And though it may seem sacrilege to say it to those devoted to the memory of his old band, Mould’s current trio with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster plays Husker Du better than Husker Du did. Almost half of Mould’s 13-song set was made up of tunes that he plied with that band back in the day, and each was an adrenaline-addled thrill ride, particularly “I Apologize” and “Celebrated Summer.” But more recent fare like “The Descent” held up well beside the old tunes.
Throw in the unrelenting thunder of Dillinger Four, and this was a homecoming concert that could make a local club hopper’s heart swell with pride and race with the raucous rhythms of old.
Rob Hubbard can be reached at email@example.com.