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Going Steady
What BC did for Craig Finn; ‘The System’ at Stel’s

Craig Finn is really nice. He’s 34, he graduated from Boston College in 1993 — back when Great Scott was still a BC jock bar — and his speaking voice is adorably nasal, just like his speaking/singing voice in the Hold Steady. Cornered at Toscanini’s before the Steady gig at the Middle East last Saturday, he talked fondly of his BC years (his favorite classes were Catholicism 1 and 2 with Father Bob Braunreuther; his BC friends still come out of the woodwork for his shows), and particularly about how the Jesuits are "brilliant dudes" — "straight up and down the most inspiring people I’ve ever been exposed to" — who helped him think about Catholocism in broader strokes. Amid BC’s conservative milieu, Finn says he managed to be a popular punk-rock nerd — which I took to mean he went to keg parties and got laid. Later, he came to the realization that though he may have partied and sinned, doesn’t necessarily consider himself a Religious Guy, and finds the Church to be both beautiful and fucked up, he’s still Catholic. Or at least, as he puts it, "I don’t go to church anymore, and I have some key problems with the Church. [But] I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that I’m not Catholic." Which is pretty much what Separation Sunday — the Hold Steady’s great, great Springsteenian blooze-rock opera about a fucked-up girl named Holly who finds God — is all about.

Finn says the Jesuits helped him realize that "there’s a lot of room for discussion, and a lot of room for trial and error. The people in the album are into parties, drugs, and alcohol — and that could fall under the heading of trial and error." Ultimately, he says, Holly is "someone who’s exploring temptation, [whether she’s] Catholic or not. It’s part of the American experience. There’s forgiveness, there’s reconciliation, there’s redemption. I couldn’t fuck up big enough that they wouldn’t take me back, the people who love me."

Stel’s is the only Newbury Street fashionista storefront with a house garage-punk band, and last Thursday night the guys from Keys to the Streets of Fear brought out their DJ set-up, "The System," for an art opening by 28-year-old Kelly Carmody, who does oils of modern people in not so modern form. In one picture, what looked like Lady Sovereign’s doppelgänger stared at you Rembrandt-style. Meanwhile, once KTTSOF worked out the kinks in "The System" — it involved connecting a record player to a guitar amp, a guitar pick-up, and a PA, something that made even Love’s "Seven and Seven Is" come out all muffled and sludgy — an arty all-ages crowd mingled and cheesed to Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and Thee Headcoates. Later, the room predictably cleared and the Keys boys led 20 survivors to a cramped practice-space gig by the Turpentine Brothers, who by the candlepower of some Schlitz Christmas light played a set of sweaty, shit-hot garage rock that coalesced into one of those rock moments that tattoos itself on your bones.

Elisabeth Donnelly can be reached at elisabeth.donnelly@gmail.com

Issue Date: November 11 - 17, 2005
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