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Craig Finn - Slaughtered Lamb, London, 15/9/2015

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 23 / 10 / 2015

Craig Finn - Slaughtered Lamb, London, 15/9/2015


Ben Howarth watches Craig Finn, more used to playing with a booming rock band behind him, perform an intimate solo set in front of an enthralled crowd in the basement room of London’s Slaughtered Lamb pub

Craig Finn begins tonight's show by confessing that he still hadn't got used to touring or playing as a solo act. Indeed, the last time we saw him on UK shores without his Hold Steady bandmates, he brought along his old muckers Patterson Hood and Will Johnson, and they played as a kind of rolling review, swapping instruments, singing backup on each other's songs and sipping on a bottle off whiskey. You sense that if he could have had a band with him, he would have. And yet, there is a tingle of anticipation in tonight's audience that you don't generally get in venues of this size (its sold out, but that still only means a few more than one hundred people there). But then, you don't normally get the chance to get this close to Craig Finn. For about a minute or so tonight, Finn's nervousness seemed to be showing – a fragile strum at an acoustic guitar and a dead stare that looked quite unlike his normal stage persona. And then he got lost in his song, leaning back from the mike to sing imaginary backing vocals, and we were away. Finn is an unusual songwriter – generally singing in the first person, and yet obviously writing observational, character-driven songs. His love for eighties hardcore and seventies classic rock shines through all his work with the Hold Steady, but you always felt that he was destined to perform the songs by himself eventually. At the rhe Slaughtered Lamb, performing in the corner of a pub basement with a single amp and no stage, his natural rapport with his audience is only amplified. Almost every song is introduced with a story, except once when he laughs and says “I really don't have anything to say about this one.” Most of tonight's set comes from his new album, 'Faith in the Future', inspired by the emotion that he finally conjured to get over the shock of 9/11. As he explains, he was working in New York and ended up watching the towers fall from a rooftop. He didn't know that in one of the buildings, the future wife he hadn't yet met was ignoring the advice to say where she was, and was narrowly escaping as he watched. The emotional intensity here is contrasted with a song he introduces as an 'on the road' song, something he'd once promised himself he'd never write. “Everyone's allowed one, though, right?”, he pleads as a defence. What makes Finn's work so absorbing is the blend between references to the rock 'n' roll greats, and the self-mythologising references to his own work. Is the Sarah he meets at the races here the same one we met a decade ago predicting which horse would come in first? But above all that is a believable empathy, an eye for detail and – once you get used to his half-spoken singing style – a flair for melody. A look around the room confirms that Finn is among friends. Crowding round the room, they laugh at the jokes, but are totally absorbed by the songs. Finn is that rare thing – a totally compelling performer who doesn't need any embellishment or virtuosity. His ideas are enough. Finn regularly mentions that he's now been touring in bands for twenty years, and even treats us to what he describes as 'the first song I ever wrote that I still like' to mark the anniversary. On this evidence, there is no reason to assume he won't still be here in another twenty.

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Craig Finn - Slaughtered Lamb, London, 15/9/2015

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