"WHEN was the last time you saw a concert at a comic book store?"
That’s the unusual question Lee Heidel posed to me a few months back, just before he presented the first intimate show by an internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter at Neighborhood Comics, the small, independent shop he co-owns just South of Forsyth Park.
At the time, Heidel –who before opening the comic book store had previously brought former Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann to town for a couple of low-key, under-the-radar “house concerts” – was eagerly anticipating a nearly private appearance by beloved indie-rocker Ken Stringfellow (best known for his work as a member of The Posies, Big Star and REM) that wound up nearly selling out, and which ultimately posited his stark, white, narrow retail space as a new and inviting location to occasionally catch such performers who would otherwise likely pass Savannah by in their regular touring schedules.
I was lucky enough to attend that sublimely unique show, and the chance to view an artist of the caliber and pedigree of Stringfellow (from just a couple of feet away in a front-row folding chair) as he played keyboard and guitar and sang unamplified into the room was a real treat for a lifelong alternative rock aficionado as myself.
Most everyone in the shop that night would likely agree, as unlike the typical bar, nightclub or concert venue, Stringfellow was afforded complete and respectful silence in which to perform, and given heartfelt applause at the end of each delicately rendered song.
After his set concluded, the evening closed with a laid-back, informal opportunity to meet and speak with the artist, and, if one wished, to buy some autograph-ready merch or albums directly from them.
If this sounds like your idea of a wonderful time, then you just may be thrilled to know that Neighborhood Comics is hosting another such event – and this time it features esteemed, literary rock and roller Craig Finn.
Not to be confused with either Tim or Neil Finn of the celebrated New Zealand bands Split Enz and Crowded House (although you might be excused from doing so), this Finn has amassed a large and extremely loyal following for his work as the frontman and chief songwriter for the NYC-based indie-rock act The Hold Steady, and before that the Minneapolis-based indie rock group Lifter Puller.
Since 2004, Finn has released eight LPs with The Hold Steady and four solo records under his own name. He’s adored by critics and listeners alike for his intensely cathartic live performances and an unusually narrative approach to lyricism (which finds a number of recurring characters and storylines developing and at times intersecting throughout his work).
His most recent effort (2019’s solo LP “I Need a New War”) serves as the third and final installment in a trilogy of works based around imagined tales of the lives of what he’s described as everyday, “middle-class professionals” he’s encountered in his travels.
To say that Heidel is a fan of Finn’s work would be something of an understatement. To hear him tell it, he’s adored the man’s creative output since first becoming exposed to it in 2005.
“I first learned about The Hold Steady when their album “Separation Sunday” was released, probably from an indie rock blog,” Heidel explains.
“It’s a great album – and the next couple of albums, “Boys and Girls in America” and “Stay Positive” built on that and became affirming, important records for me. I’ve had the chance to see The Hold Steady live a half-dozen times and their live shows have an empowering, uplifting energy. Craig’s solo work heightens the storytelling but with less raucous arrangements,” says Heidel.
“Over the last few years, he’s participated in ‘living room tours’ doing solo, acoustic performances. Since that style show is in his wheelhouse, and I love his music, he was at the top of my (wish) list for performing at Neighborhood Comics. I’m really looking forward to hearing songs from his latest album in this stripped-down format.”
“Stripped-down” is an apt description for the shows Heidel hosts at his shop, in that they do have a small number of chairs available for folks to sit in, but not nearly enough for all ticketholders. Therefore, folks are encouraged as well to bring pillows and/or cushions and to sit on the floor.
The presentation of the show itself is pulled back to just the basics as well. Says Heidel, “Craig performs with a simple PA for his voice and accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. That will be the only amplification, and he’ll play for a little over and hour.”
Heidel says he received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from those who attended the Ken Stringfellow show, adding that “Being able to host talented, emotional performances in our space is a huge honor for me.”
He also says that he learned a lot from that first store concert, and based on that experience has opted to change the configuration of the space a bit, as well as altering the lighting to make for an improved experience for both the artist and the audience members.
“Yes, it’s an odd venue, to have singers perform in a comic book shop,” he allows. “But I think that unique vibe adds to the specialness of the night.”
Even more special is the fact that Finn is not even on tour right now, and this Savannah appearance will be one of just two shows on his current calendar.
“Craig just wrapped up his European and U.S. tour with his solo band, and there were no Southern dates, which was a bummer for a big fan like myself,” explains Heidel.
“Randomly, I noticed he was booked for a solo show at a brewery in Jacksonville, Fl., so I reached out to see if he’d be willing to add on a date to that gig, and he said yes. I couldn’t be more thrilled to host one of my favorite songwriters in our intimate space.”
According to Heidel, Finn has only played Savannah once before, with The Hold Steady at River Street’s long-gone concert venue the Live Wire Music Hall. “It was a crazy show,” he recalls. “The band was essentially on the floor with the audience. It was like a huge party.”
Heidel cautions fans not to expect a similar energy at this upcoming solo date.
“If you saw that concert, just know that the vibe at Craig’s performance at Neighborhood Comics will be very different. The shows we curate are all about the songs, the narrative and the story. That’s where the crossover comes from. Comics and graphic novels are all about storytelling. Craig creates these epic tales of everyday people trying to live and love and survive. This is a chance to really listen and respect these amazing little pieces of art.”