Live review: The Hold Steady almost killed me

Categories: Concert Review

My head aches as I type this. The sun streaming in my window only serves to further intensify the pain behind my eyeballs. It's afternoon, for Christ's sake, and I am still hungover from last night. The Hold Steady almost killed me.

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Photo of Craig Finn by Stacy Schwartz.

How did I manage to bike home last night? Why am I several hours past deadline? Where did that bruise come from? These are questions that will have to be answered later -- for now, I must attempt to piece together my glorious evening at First Avenue.

The night started out innocently enough, with a bike ride through the city and a quiet dinner at a Szechuan restaurant. As we were getting ready to settle our tab, the waitress asked about our plans for the evening. "We are going to see the Hold Steady," we replied, and she returned a few moments later with two glasses of Jameson, as if arming us for the battle we were about to endure.

By the time we got to the venue, my head was buzzing and I was downright ecstatic with anticipation. I think I even jumped up and down with glee while waiting in line for the show. I had only seen the Hold Steady live once before, and it was in a strange setting with about 300 students at the U of M. Even then, though, I was entranced by Craig Finn's theatrical gestures and contagious smile, and I had been waiting for another chance to see him ever since.

Openers the Loved Ones were somewhat of a disappointment (insert not-so-Loved Ones joke here). Their songs sounded like the soundtrack to a late-'90s teen movie, perhaps She's All That or Can't Hardly Wait, and their set overflowed with power chords and pop punk melodies and clean, freshly-scrubbed sheen. It wasn't that the Loved Ones were bad, per se--they were actually quite tight as a group--but their clean cut approach to pop rock was in sharp contrast to the heavier, moodier bar rock that the crowd was expecting. Most of the crowd seemed unattached during the Loved Ones' set, save for one frantic female near the front of the audience who bounced up and down and sang along with every word. I'm not gonna lie: I took the opportunity to purchase and consume a giant beer, praying for the band to finish so we could see the main act.

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Photo by Stacy Schwartz.

The Hold Steady came out with guns blazing to the opening lines of "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called life," and then proceeded to launch into one of my favorite tracks from their new album, Stay Positive's "Constructive Summer." Immediately, a feeling of pure joy was cast out into the room. Which is the best part of seeing the Hold Steady live: Craig Finn and his bandmates are having a blast up there on stage, and they're not afraid to show it. Finn beamed out into the audience as he sang, as if he was greeting a room full of his best friends, and the band waved at the audience like we were all long lost drinking buddies.

"We’re gonna build something this summer," Finn sang during "Constructive Summer," and it was as if he was narrating the scene playing out in the audience. "Me and my friends are like 'Double-whiskey-coke-no-ice' / We drink along in double time / might drink too much, but we feel fine."

The band barreled through their set with hardly any stops, playing for nearly two hours and covering a wide range of their current and past work. Personal highlights included: "Sequestered in Memphis," the first single off Stay Positive; "One for the Cutters," with its creepy harpsichord part and dark lyrics; "Stevie Nicks"--"Oh, to be 17 forever" might be my favorite snippet of Hold Steady lyrics; and "Lord, I'm Discouraged," which was even more epic live than on the record and featured Tad Kubler wailing away on a double-neck guitar.

The crowd didn't want the band to stop. There was no question that the band would play an encore, but even after those three songs were finished we wanted more. The band obliged with a second encore performance of "Certain Songs" and "Killer Parties," which Finn introduced by telling the audience how much joy he felt when he performed live--and you had to believe him, as he dangled his guitar off his neck like an oversized necklace and spread his arms open wide like a rock and roll savior.

Set List:
Constructive Summer
Hot Soft Light
Chips Ahoy!
Sequestered in Memphis
Yeah Sapphire
One for the Cutters
Stevie Nix
Hot Fries
Magazines
Sweet Payne
Massive Nights
Party Pit
Two-Handed Hand Shake
Joke About Jamaica
Lord, I’m Discouraged
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Stay Positive
Slapped Actress

Encore:
Positive Jam
Stuck Between Stations
How a Resurrection Really Feels

Second Encore:
Certain Songs
Killer Parties


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