The Hold Steady // Live Review

the hold steady

In spite of multiple friendships being based around a mutual love for The Hold Steady, for seven years I waited to see this band. So much stood in the way between the Minnesotan bar rockers and yours truly, but god dammit, every curse must break eventually – and boy, was this a good night to be free.

Rarely does it feel necessary to allude to the support act, but The So So Glos deserve all the attention you can give them right now. Hailing from New York, in their brash noise and blasé attitude, it’s not hard to see why they’ve previously toured with the likes of Titus Andronicus: they’re loud, shouty and a tonne of fucking fun, their songs carrying an undercurrent of late 90s pop punk in just the right ratio to maintain respectability. The So So Glos are also a crucial part of the wider show, the comedy club MCs to the Hold Steady’s big name standup – riling the crowd into the beer-drenched euphoria the headliners so require.

And so, how right it feels when the headliners open with ‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’ and its Separation Sunday buddy ‘Banging Camp’, how refreshingly brief their obligatory, dutiful nod to their newest material is, and, ultimately, how content with delving into their catalogue of big hits they seem to be. Boys And Girls In America and Stay Positive both see significant playtime, and even the muddy sound of Koko’s high-ceilinged, sonically-flawed architecture can’t detract from the energy and elation on display here tonight.

A 43-year-old catholic who couldn’t look more paternal if you slapped a moustache on his face and a lawnmower in his hands, Craig Finn is perhaps the least likely rock star of our times and it’s this which makes him so endearing. He’s a man who looks so permanently amazed he’s fronting a successful band, his excited grin a fixture of the entire show, and something shared by his bandmates. It’s fairly clear these men wouldn’t swap their jobs for the world.

While it’s been four years since mustachioed keys player Franz Nicolay left, it’s his absence which is responsible for the only moments of weakness in this set – particularly noticeable on Boys And Girls… tracks, there’s an occasional hollowness in the likes of ‘First Night’ and ‘Stuck Between Stations’, longing for Nicolay’s intricate piano. But if this is the one criticism of the band’s live show – and it is – I think we can all sleep soundly knowing their reign will hold steady for a long time and I’m not even the slightest bit sorry for that godawful, predictable pun.

Closing up their encore with ‘Killer Parties’, before being joined by The So So Glos for an apt cover of the Violent Femmes’ ‘American Music’, the best part of a decade I abstained from seeing the Hold Steady felt worth the wait for this drunken one night stand.

I’m pretty sure we partied.