by 99 Seats
As many, if not most, folks I know know about me, I'm a very, very big fan of the Brooklyn-based, Minnesota-born band, The Hold Steady. Isaac dislikes them intensely, particularly the voice of lead singer Craig Finn, so I will spare his ears out of respect and not post a video. Instead, you get the sweaty, manic visage of the man himself, just the way I saw him last night at The Music Hall of Williamsburg.
This is what joy looks like to me. And this is what the reciprocal loop of loving your audience and your audience loving you should look and feel like.
The Hold Steady are nothing if not a fan's band. One of their lyrics goes "Our psalms are sing along songs." And all of The Hold Steady's songs are sing alongs. From the first mighty guitar licks, the sold-out house was singing, chanting and screaming along, pretty much everyone in the house knew every word of every song. Craig tends to cram words into his lyrics, switchbacks, double entendres (some are nearly puns), and just too damn many words, but each of them were shouted out by a sweaty, roiling mob. I've been to a bunch of their shows, but I've never been that far upfront before. While my ears are still ringing and I've probably done permanent damage to my hearing (what's that you say?), it was worth it.
I went into the show almost literally after getting off the bus from D.C. so all of that conversation and thought was still in my head and it was hard not to look at the evening through the lens of some of the issues and questions that came up. I've often said that theatres and theatre artists should approach their work more like bands. In the past, I've emphasized the marketing and fan connection aspect of that. But I think there are some organizational and business models to look at. Not to mention artistic models for collaboration and connections.
The Hold Steady is a band. When I saw them last night, it was a band that consisted of a drummer, a bassist and three guitarists (well, really, 2 and a half; Craig mostly sang.). That wasn't the band that I saw the first time I saw them. When I first saw the band, they had a keyboardist, Franz Nicolay. He was a big presence, kind of flashy and outrageous and when he was in the band, the songs were drenched in keyboards: piano, accordion, organ. The songs had long piano solos, and were, in some ways, more contemplative and introspective. But that wasn't how the band started. It started off as a quartet, two guitars, a bass and drums. When they added Franz, their sound changed. Now that he's gone, the sound has changed again.
But here's the thing: all of the songs are written by Craig (or nearly all). It's his voice and his vision...to a certain extent. Who he works with and how they work, though, determine the sound and the effect. Your collaborators feed you and you feed them. And obviously, if the other band members weren't feeling Craig's vision, they could move on.
But the changes go both ways. The Hold Steady's first album was different from their fourth, because of the influence of Franz. The whole point of collaborative arts is that the changes go both ways. And I can't think of a playwright trained in the last twenty-five years who doesn't embrace the collaborative nature of our work. So maybe, we all embrace it.
Find a partner, a director, a designer and become a twosome. Add actors, make a band. Reach your fans. There may be something to all of this.