The Hold Steady at the Cabooze, 07/03/10

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Photos by Tony Nelson
All the pieces were certainly in place for a memorable show from the Hold Steady on Saturday night, with a sold-out crowd awaiting the band at the outdoor stage at the Cabooze on a steamy but glorious summer evening in Minneapolis. I'm not sure if it was the oppressive heat, the relatively early start time, or the set list that skewed mostly towards the band's newer material, but whatever the case, the show proved to be a good but not great performance from the Twin City transplants. And with a litany of memorable and euphoric shows from them over the years here in the Cities, a decent but not quite momentous set from the Hold Steady, while never being disappointing or dull, still can be viewed as a bit of a letdown. A spark just seemed to be missing for most of the night and the show never fully took off; for while it was enjoyable, it just wasn't the Hold Steady at their best, especially when compared to the impassioned, rousing performance the band put on the following night at First Avenue.

Whatever was lacking from this show certainly can't be blamed on frontman Craig Finn, who will always be the bands biggest cheerleader, as well as a constant champion of the Twin Cities. He was his normally exuberant, animated self, giving the crowd a guided tour of the streets and scenes that we all know so well through his energetic songs. Finn talked about how he remembered seeing 7 Seconds and Black Flag here when he was younger, even admitting sheepishly that "the last time I was here, I was 18 years old and I got my fake ID taken away from me." And when you have lyrics that reference Cedar-Riverside ("Sweet Part Of The City") so close to the source, you can't help but be swept up in the significance and poignancy of hearing these songs that are continually peppered with local landmarks while also being surrounded by them.

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Photos by Tony Nelson
The Hold Steady are now touring as a six-piece, with the addition of guitarist Steve Selvidge and keyboardist Dan Neustadt (who replaced Franz Nicolay), and the new arrangement added an edge to the guitar-driven songs, while also giving Finn the freedom to espouse his sordid truths unrestricted by his guitar responsibilities. While Nicolay's excitable stage presence will be missed as much as his backing vocals, for the most part the new lineup clicked smoothly throughout their hour-and-45-minute set. But the performance leaned too heavily on material from their last two records for my taste, and while those songs are pleasant enough, they lack the bite and spirit of their earlier songs. So it was no surprise that the highlights proved to be the one-two punch of "Stevie Nix" and "Multitude Of Causalities" which came roughly halfway into the main set, as well as the five-song run right before the encore, which was simply stellar, and really found the band hitting their stride. But the show had an inconsistent energy level that left parts of the crowd somewhat disconnected in what should always be an uplifting, communal experience when seeing the Hold Steady.

The encore perfectly encapsulated this uneven tendency, with "The Swish" and the slow-building "Sweet Payne" finally giving us something from the band's feisty debut, before they slowed things down a bit with "The Weekenders," which just seemed tame by comparison. So much so that it took the band a while to build up the drama and the tension of "How A Resurrection Really Feels," which closed out the show. "Resurrection" is typically an effusive end to what feels like a drunken sermon, but on this night it just seemed tired, as did most of the crowd at this point, who seemed mostly lethargic because of the heat. But again, a good set from the Hold Steady is still better than most, and I wasn't disappointed, I just knew the band could do better. And they definitely did the following night at First Avenue, putting on one of their better local shows in years.

Personal Bias: Definitely a clustered up clever kid who has been holding steady from the start.
The Crowd: Sweaty and drunk, with most of them seeming to run out of gas about midway through.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Someone's going to have to help me carry all these drinks."
Random Notebook Dump: Did Craig really dedicate "Southtown Girls" to his sister who is about to make him an uncle for the first time? That's a bit odd.

Set List:
Stuck Between Stations
Rock Problems
Magazines
Navy Sheets
Chips Ahoy!
Hurricane J
Sequestered In Memphis
Stevie Nix
Multitude Of Casualties
Sweet Part Of The City
Constructive Summer
Hot Soft Light
Barely Breathing
You Can Make Him Like You
Lord, I'm Discouraged
Stay Positive
Southtown Girls
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Massive Nights
Slapped Actresses
 
Encore:
The Swish
Sweet Payne
The Weekenders
How A Resurrection Really Feels


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