The Hold Steady | 03.15.07

hs0307Finn's lyrics and regular-guy personality have created a strong connection between the band and its fans.

 

w/The Thermals
Off Broadway, St. Louis

Craig Finn was on a mission to make some friends in St. Louis. The Hold Steady hadn't been here since they played the Hi-Pointe in 2005, before a small crowd of indie-rock aficionados who had either discovered Separation Sunday before it gained momentum or remembered Finn as the ex-frontman of Minnesota's cult favorite Lifter Puller. Since that time, the Hold Steady buzz has grown considerably—they were named Spin's "Band of the Year," received the year's highest rating on Pitchfork, and ended up on just about everyone's year-end list[1] after the release of 2006's Boys and Girls in America.

Combining the Hold Steady with Portland's the Thermals, who also released one of last year's best records, created an atmosphere that felt like an indie-rock frat party. Off Broadway was sold out[2] with a diverse crowd[3] that was not only anxious to see two critically acclaimed bands, but ready to cut loose and raise their glasses to Finn's tales of parties, partying, and the frustratingly-futile-but-in-retrospect-glorious quest for the ever-elusive good time.

It's a cool concept—the band's epic riffs and straightforward, guitar-driven classic rock provide the perfect backdrop for Finn's unique delivery and storytelling. Somehow the Hold Steady are cerebral enough for music snobs, accessible enough for those with more mainstream tastes, and at the same time classic-rock enough for old dudes who "haven't heard a great record since 1986."

This concept has spawned a cult following that keeps growing, and Finn wants to hang out with his fans. The Hold Steady are widely described as a "bar band," and Finn is the guy who's always up for one last beer, your buddy who's easily persuaded to spend a weeknight talking sports and music in the dive bars. I'm picturing myself sitting in a booth with him—there are two pitchers in the middle, we have no agenda, and in the past hour he's not only listed the entire Minnesota Twins lineup from Nintendo's RBI Baseball, but sparked a debate about the ten "greatest" hair metal songs of all time.

Finn's lyrics and regular-guy personality have created a strong connection between the band and its fans. Reportedly shows in other cities have resembled revivals during which sold-out crowds will shout in unison with Finn, echoing word-for-word his sermons about massive nights, killer parties, and college students getting wasted at outdoor rock shows. So after a tight, well-received set of politically charged punk rock from the Thermals[4], I was anxious to see how St. Louisans would embrace the Hold Steady and their loveable leader.

After the band opened with "Stuck Between Stations" and tore threw other offerings from Boys and Girls in America such as "Chips Ahoy!" and "You Can Make Him Like You," the crowd was moderately enthused and appreciative. Finn wanted to start a party, however, and with heavy riffs blaring in the background he sang, preached, and shouted, taking every opportunity to fire up the crowd. Eager to please the locals, he threw his hands in the air and emphasized the phrase "MISSISSIPPI RIVER!!" during both "Stevie Nicks" and "Same Kooks," and as the night went on, things got looser—the crowd chanted the chorus to "Massive Nights," and the energy increased during the set's climax of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" and "Southtown Girls."

During the encore of "First Night," "Most People are DJs," and "Killer Parties," Finn had succeeded, as fans stormed the stage and reveled with the band. As the melee concluded, Finn climbed up on an amplifier, emerging from the party in order to wave goodbye to those of us who weren't on the stage. It was a fitting end to a great night of rock music—he made his connection, and even though we've never hung out in that booth on a random weeknight, I still feel like Craig Finn and I have partied together. | Andrew Scavotto


[1] http://www.playbackstl.com/content/view/5534/254/

[2] Note to all of the great bands that played Columbia and passed St. Louis during the past year– we'll show up, okay? Our inferiority complex is bad enough already, so please remember us next time

[3] Including Rob Corddry of Comedy Central fame

[4] Which, by the way, featured an awesome ending – "A Pillar of Salt" followed by "Returning to the Fold" from The Body, the Blood, the Machine. The Thermals kick ass and they definitely left me wanting more.

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