The current leg of Craig Finn‘s tour in support of his latest solo album, I Need A New War, found the singer/songwriter (and The Hold Steady frontman) and his stellar backing band, The Uptown Controllers, landing at the Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last Tuesday evening. It was a bit of an intimate affair – the presence of rows of chairs on the main floor was unexpected and limited the venue’s capacity from its normal SRO heights, but created a bit of a unique lounge/theater vibe in what is already the best room of its size (normal capacity is 525) within a hundred mile radius.
The infinitely-talented Laura Stevenson was the opener for this brief run of shows. Armed with only a guitar, the minimalist performance allowed Stevenson’s deadliest weapon – her voice – to shine. It’s a voice that can seemingly effortlessly wander from fragile to ferocious; haunting but with a sweetness to it that makes for a powerful and sometimes funny and occasionally awkward-but-in-a-good-way start to the evening. (Oh, an she opened with “Lay Back, Arms Out,” and that might be my favorite Laura Stevenson song so that was awesome).
Finn and his band took the stage next – shoutout to two-band bills on a weeknight, by the way – and by the time they did most of the floor’s seats were occupied and a few stragglers had filled in standing room spots around the edges. It was one of the first few shows that this particular group had played as a six-piece (Parker Shper whose name is somehow not misspelled on keys, Stuart Bogie on sax and clarinet among other things, James Richardson on guitar, Will Berman on bass and Falcon Valdez on drums with the occasional pop-up appearance by Stevenson on vocals) but as consummate veterans of around a collected 700 other bands over the last twenty years, the parts seemed to fit together magically already, which is no easy task; the muted tones and subtle layers provide a lot of room for the potential stepping-on of toes between musicians, but there wasn’t much of that at all to the naked ear.
Finn occasionally played guitar, but his preeminent role in these full-band solo shows is that of storyteller. Sure it’s a rock show, but in many ways what Finn and the Uptown Controllers are conveying feels more than a little bit like a night at the theater. Through his work with The Hold Steady, Finn has long made a history of telling stories as a songwriter that eschew the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-repeat structures. His solo storytelling, particularly on the most recent trio of albums (2015’s Faith In The Future, 2017’s We All Want The Same Things and this year’s stellar I Need A New War), ups that ante, and in a live performance, Finn doesn’t just tell stories with his lyrics but with his actual performance, tying songs together, explaining characters in a way that really inserts them into all of our lives.
Head below to scroll through our full photo gallery from the evening!