I'm new to The Hold Steady train. Not new to their music-heard it, liked one or two songs-but new to seeing them live, mostly because I only liked one or two songs, not many. I saw them for the very first time ever at this year's SXSW because of location... and, to quote the great Shane McGowan, their's was a show that knocked me ass over tit. The serious amount of energy lead singer Craig Finn exerts onstage could probably power a small city for a month.
But then I saw them again in Towson, MD a few days after returning from SX, and I noticed a distinct difference. I'll put it to you this way: multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay remained rather sedentary until roughly 3/4 of the way into the set (and this was a dancin fool in Austin). And Finn, while kind of animated, really didn't get going until, again, 3/4 of the way into the set. Everyone just seemed...tired.
So, yeesh, did I see an anomaly at SX? Which was live and which was Memorex? After Sunday's show at the 930 Club, I think it's pretty safe to say that the Towson show was the anomaly. At the 930 Club on Sunday night, The Hold Steady was a band out to create musical mayhem, and they weren't leaving anyone in the audience behind.
Maybe they were still glowing from their afternoon visit to the White House, or maybe it was the super-energized sold out crowd that had them amped up, but Finn and company were very clearly having a ball onstage. Bassist Galen Polivka was playing and clowning in back of drummer Bobby Drake on his drum riser, playing atop the side-stage speakers, or doing an odd walk across the stage while playing that was one part Chuck Berry and three parts Elephant Man. Finn bounced around the stage more than a rabbit on meth. He repeatedly commented how glad they were to be back in DC, doing many fist-to-chest bumps to the audience, and wearing a huge grin.
Something I love about the photo above it that it seems to visually capture the typical ying and yang stage presence that is Finn (maniac, dancing and interacting with the crowd), and lead guitarist/band co-founder Tad Kubler (more of a calmer and sedate type overall). Mind you I said typical: Kubler did break out into random pogoing when you didn't expect it and climbed the other side-stage speakers with Polivka. And while I appreciated Finn playing his ass off like a deranged kid because it makes the show entertaining, what I wouldn't give for a shot of him during "Lord I'm Discouraged"....It's a powerful song anyway about utter helplessness, but Finn's rendition Sunday was stunning. He hung on to the mike stand like the words pouring forth were being ripped from the very bottom of his soul.
They also included a really lovely cover of History Lesson, Part 2 by The Minutemen in the encore which was a nice touch.
So if you are like me before and wonder, "What's all the fuss about the Hold Steady?", I got four words for you, man: go see them live. You'll be high as hell and born again, I promise.
Give a Listen: History Lesson, Part 2 (Minutemen Cover)-The Hold Steady, 930 Club, 6/7/09
The whole show can be found here.