Back in the early '00s, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, who will play Saturday at the Electric Factory with the Drive-By Truckers in a killer double-bill of rousing, character-driven rock-and-roll, was between bands.
Lifter Puller, the Twin Cities outfit he had formed with guitarist Tad Kubler, had broken up. Finn moved to Brooklyn with the idea that he was going to put music behind him and pursue "writing or comedy or something. But mostly I was just hanging out, going to see bands."
Among them was the Drive-By Truckers, the Alabama-born guitar band fronted by the songwriting tandem of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. "They were one of the things I saw that made me want to start a band again," said Finn, talking on the phone this week from a tour stop in Raleigh, N.C.
"It was the Southern Rock Opera tour at the Bowery Ballroom. At the time, indie-rock in New York was all these tight dance-punk bands, like the Rapture and the Liars. To see these slightly older guys with a really good understanding of rock-and-roll history get up and play these big guitar riffs with very smart lyrics - it was really cool."
His description of the Truckers could just as well suit the Hold Steady. The fivesome has released four albums, the most recent being this year's Stay Positive; it's full of Kubler's galvanic power chords and Finn's spoken-sung prose poetry, each bearing the influence of '80s hardcore punk, as well as Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements.
Finn didn't grow up in an overly religious household, though his songs like Stay Positive's "Both Crosses" and "Lord, I'm Discouraged" are suffused with Catholic imagery.
"When I went to Boston College, I started taking a lot of theology classes," the 37-year-old guitarist says. "The concepts of forgiveness and redemption are beautiful, no matter what faith you use to interpret those things for you. Those are the things I'm most interested in."
He's also interested in making music that builds a community, like the Twin Cities all-ages "world without parents" did for him in the '80s when, as he puts it in Stay Positive's title song, bands like "Youth of Today and early 7 Seconds taught me some of life's most valuable lessons."
"I hope we're important in people's lives," says Finn, who cites Philadelphia's the War on Drugs, along with San Francisco's the Donkeys, as his two favorite young bands.
"I'm always flattered when I see people traveling to come to our shows. For people of a certain age to put rock-and-roll in a place where they want to pursue it across state lines . . . . Thinking of the bands I love, the most exciting example of that is to go see Bruce Springsteen. There's something in the air there that is really present nowhere else. Though obviously, that's a lot to shoot for."