Monday, March 29, 2010

Take Cover: The Hold Steady take on The Boss

Craig Finn has one of those impeccable rock voices, distinctive and commanding with a character all its own. It recalls boozy walks home down slick city streets and smoky crowded bars full of strangers. It crams allusions and illusions in between dizzying chord changes, syllable by stubborn syllable. It taps into a dark sense of hopelessness hidden beneath the glorified sound of American rock 'n' roll.

Know who else does that? The Boss. Bruce Springsteen has for decades become famous for unveiling the pervasive heart of darkness that lives alongside the American dream, and making it sound damn good.

It's hard to improve on a classic. And of course, The Hold Steady's lineup is awfully similar to that of the E Street Band, with a powerful saxophone that rivals Clarence Clemons. But this version of "Atlantic City" is more sinister, and more rocking, than Springsteen's nostalgic, acoustic ballad. That's why a line like "Last night I met this guy, I'm gonna do a favor for him," comes across exactly as Springsteen meant it: subtly haunting, vague, uneasy. Everything dies, that's a fact. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back-- like, perhaps, a certain painter of lyrical portraits, well-versed in history and amplified Americana, with a flair for the rough and ragged and run-down. Bruce, meet Craig. (See the Boss's original after the jump.)

-- Caroline Klibanoff
"Melodious Intoxication," Thursdays 12-2 pm on WGTB

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