Manly, mighty, loud, ugly rock 'n' roll has probably never felt so warm, meaningful and beautiful as it did at First Avenue over the weekend.
The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers -- two bands that always pack First Ave on their individual never-ending tours -- tag-teamed the club on Saturday and Sunday nights as part of their co-headlining Rock and Roll Means Well Tour. Sort of a convenient value-pack for fans (probably more than half of the 1,500 each night were heavily into both bands), the final product in no way felt discounted.
Whether it was camaraderie or competitiveness or both, each of the traditionalist guitar-rock bands put it in overdrive and never let up either night. Best of all, they tied their sets together thematically (by playing all their songs that preach the joys of rock) and physically (cross-mingling their members for the encores each night).
Even if the point was nothing more than "Keep on rocking, dudes," these were shows that truly meant something.
"Rock 'n' roll saved my life when I was a teenager, and a lot of the bands that did it were from Minneapolis," the Truckers' Alabama-reared frontman, Patterson Hood, told the crowd during "Let There Be Rock" in Saturday's encore. With three-fifths of the Twin Cities-rooted Hold Steady helping out, Hood added, "Now, I'm out on the road with one of the best bands in the world, and they're from here, too."
The love fest went both ways. Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn talked about moving to New York from Minneapolis and not wanting to start a new band until he saw the Truckers one night.
"I sincerely believe they're the only band I know that enjoy rock 'n' roll as much as we do," Finn said.
At each show, the bands kicked out the jams together on a jovial classic-rock cover. On Saturday, it was Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World." On Sunday, when the Hold Steady took over headlining duties, they did the Band's "Look Out Cleveland."
Their own lists of songs also varied greatly over the two nights. The Hold Steady went from playing only one song Saturday off its best album, 2005's "Separation Sunday," to offering six from it Sunday.
The one consistency in the Hold Steady's case was that both nights it picked heavily from its new album, "Stay Positive," which hasn't been as well-received critically as their previous albums -- and these shows left one wondering why. "Sequestered in Memphis" and the new title track were rousing gems, while "Lord, I'm Discouraged" delved into deeper waters with high results.
The Truckers ran even more of the gamut each night. On Sunday, they opened with the song that gave the tour its name, "Marry Me" (with the lyric, "Rock 'n' roll means well, but it can't help telling young boys lies"), and both nights they didn't even stop the music to swig from their communal bottle of Jack Daniels.
Sunday's show went so late that Truckers singer/guitarist Mike Cooley came out for the all-star encore wearing one-piece pajamas. Once again, they all jammed on "Let There Be Rock" but then finished with the Hold Steady's "Killer Parties." Killer, indeed.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658