Seattle's The Cops took the stage at Plush this past Sunday to thunderous applause, or perhaps stone-faced indifference; having arrived too late to catch their set, I have no report to offer on them, good or ill.
But no matter; I was really there to see Guelph, Ontario's Constantines, and the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minneapolis classic-rock outfit The Hold Steady. (OK, they're not really a bona fide classic-rock band, but they bring all the best elements of that hackneyed "genre" unabashedly to the table.)
The Constantines came on at around 10. Attendance was respectable, but less than I expected, given the heat and light both groups seem to be throwing off in mainstream outlets like Rolling Stone and ABC's hit Gilligan's Island remake, Lost.
Relying heavily on their latest long player Tournament of Hearts, the Constantines sounded like a more working-class version of Fugazi, replete with dueling vocalists and ringing guitars, like if Ian MacKaye's dad had been a pipefitter instead of the religion editor at The Washington Post. As if to illustrate my germinating analysis, they kicked into the anthemic "Working Full Time," a standout from Hearts that wouldn't be much out of place on a BTO album.
Both groups have their calloused fingers firmly around the neck of the blue-collar bar band gestalt, in different ways. The Constantines infuse their classic rocking with elements that pervade the indie idiom--angular guitars and soaring, if abraded, choruses, brought scintillatingly to life during "Love in Fear." The Hold Steady, by contrast, wallow in a certain Springsteenian '70s sensibility, where "classic rock" was simply called "rock," and new wave and disco records were worthy of burning in the outfields of Major League Baseball teams.
The Hold Steady took the stage with the enthusiasm befitting dudes who never expected to play outside their corner bar. Despite a rather goofy, light show and a shoddy mix (courtesy of the group's "sixth member") that buried frontman Craig Finn's unique vocal delivery, all The Hold Steady's charms were nonetheless on full display--booze-fueled, pithy ranting over music so thoroughly cribbed from Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey that one half expected Clarence Clemons to appear from the wings.
Don't take that the wrong way, however. The Hold Steady, despite their traffic in classic rock tropes, are an original force in rock music, exciting because no one else is attempting anything remotely similar.