Before I talk about this show, I think I should provide some context for how I feel about this band. For a few years now, at least since the release of Separation Sunday in 2004, The Hold Steady have been a big, drunken, rocking blip on the indie scene's radar, and my friends who know such things have been telling me how much I would like them. Reasons have ranged from "They rock!" to "They're like the world's best bar band" to "You'll dig the lyrics" and even pointing out my general physical resemblance to the lead singer, Craig Finn, who is pictured above. (I have to give them that one; just imagine him with a beard and a little more hair and it's not that much of a stretch.) So there was all this incentive but for some reason there was no action, and I went about my business, listening to lots of bands that weren't The Hold Steady, and I didn't know any better.
Then, one random night earlier this year, while killing time at my friend's apartment he brought out last year's Stay Positive and put it on. I started to hear what it was everyone was talking about, but it didn't truly grab me until I put on the freshly-borrowed album on my way home and the first song, "Constructive Summer," filled my ears. I listened to it once and bobbed my head a bit; the second time my steering wheel felt the wrath of the drumsticks I suddenly had growing from my hands; by the third time I was shouting along with Craig: "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer! I think he might have been our only decent teacher." And I don't even listen to the Clash! People, this was some serious rebirth I was experiencing. I quickly came to the conclusion that The Hold Steady had been created with my tastes specifically in mind: the punky song structures filled with classic rock, the generous use of piano, the group singalongs, the casual shredding, the clear joy they took in what they were doing and the lyrics that told a tale and still lent themselves to singing as loudly as possible. Now here was a damn band.
With all of that enthusiasm, love, and borderline hero worship, imagine my excitement when my good friend Dave got me and my girlfriend Nikki tickets to the show last week. I'd seen them at Coachella, and they were awesome, but I was stupid drunk and Craig's voice was a little torn up, so I was geeked up to see them again. Well, they didn't disappoint. Right from the opening declaration of "She says 'always remember never to trust me'" the crowd was singing along, fists in the air, feet up and down on the floor, hips and heads moving in all sorts of directions. The band pulled heavily from Separation Sunday and Stay Positive while giving short shrift to my favorite, Boys and Girls in America, but that's a minor complaint--the whole set rocked. For my part I spent most of it air-guitaring, -drumming and -pianoing while jumping around and screaming the stories right back at the stage. Occasionally I'd turn to Nikki, throw an arm around and sing her a part that seemed especially relevant to my partially beer-addled brain at that moment, or dance around with some of my other friends while singing about good dancers who aren't especially good girlfriends. Somewhere in my euphoria, I realized I was living a Hold Steady record right there underneath the chandeliers of the El Rey: I had my girl, my beer and my rock n' roll, and I was as happy as I'd been in a long time. Like they say in "Constructive Summer," we are our only saviors. Indeed, though it doesn't hurt to have The Hold Steady there to give a little push.
Set List: Hornets! Hornets! / Sequestered in Memphis / You Can Make Him Like You / Navy Sheets / Banging Camp / Stay Positive / Constructive Summer / Multitude of Casualties / Don't Let Me Explode / Your Little Hoodrat Friend / One for the Cutters /Cheyenne Sunrise / Magazines / Joke About Jamaica /Yeah Sapphire /Lord, I'm Discouraged / Milkcrate Mosh / Chips Ahoy! / How a Resurrection Really Feels
Encore: Stuck Between Stations / You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With) / Southtown Girls / Slapped Actress