The Hold Steady have received heaps of critical acclaim from the likes of Mojo and Uncut magazine in the UK, so it is no wonder that the majority of the crowd besides me are grey-haired gentlemen looking to relive their Springsteen years. All of this lends the largest concert that the Hold Steady have headlined a somewhat bizarre experience. Here are guys on stage singing songs of debauchery while many in the crowd are sipping their lager-tops somewhat nervously. But maybe I’m being too analytical – perhaps it’s because it is a Monday night or the first night of the smoking ban. Whatever the reason, it all feels a little subdued.
The band come on stage and launch straight into ‘Stuck Between Stations’, their first single and greatest song from their debut album, Boys and Girls in America. And what a way to start the show. The crowd are already bowled over from the first song, despite some slight sound problems at the front which thankfully were sorted out a few songs in.
Lead singer Craig Finn is somewhat diminutive on stage – I imagined he’d be this towering figure of beat-poetry – but that doesn’t mean he has no stage presence. He’s animated tonight, snarling the words into the microphone pointing to the crowd and the space around him, drawing the crowd into the performance space and it works a treat. You can’t take your eyes off him.
The band are tight, the songs are pretty faithful to their recorded versions and are well received by all. Even those grey-haired men are now wishing they’d gone full whack and started drinking Jack Daniels and coke. ‘Swish’ from The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me is received less well owing to the fact that many in the crowd have only just registered the hype surrounding this band and have yet to discover the UK re-release of their first two albums, which happened only a few months ago. Indeed, it is a pattern which is repeated throughout tonight’s performance; the older songs are warmly received but unknown by most in the crowd and the largest cheers are reserved for the Boys and Girls in America material.
‘Chips Ahoy!’ and ‘Massive Nights’ are the two songs which stood out for me both in terms of the performance on stage and crowd participation. By now the dancing and moshing had spread from a few pockets in the crowd to become a bit more akin to a normal concert.
The encore was mixed. ‘Citrus’, although lovely on record, is merely a filler song live, allowing people time to recover for the final songs. ‘First Night’ showcases Finn’s amazing ability to make poetry out of the mundane. A beautiful song which is apparently Springsteen’s favourite of theirs. And no wonder, this wouldn’t be out of place on Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River. This could be a song which reveals a new musical direction for the band – or merely an interlude to more stories on drink and drugs. ‘Chillout Tent’ suffers slightly from the lack of female vocals while ‘Killer Parties’ seems to sum up the band and the gig tonight when Finn gasps: “Killer parties almost killed me”.
Allow the Hold Steady some time and they will certainly almost kill you too. Definitely one to catch next time they’re in your neck of the woods.
‘Stuck Between Stations’
‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’
‘Multitude of Casualties’
‘Hot Soft Light’
‘You Can Make Him Like You’
‘How a resurrection really feels’