The Hold Steady, State Theatre, Nov. 1, 2007
The lobby of the State Theatre was full of aging scenesters, tallboys of Heineken, and rumors of a Bruce Springsteen appearance. Although the band is Brooklyn-based, the Twin Cities have as much of a proprietary interest in The Hold Steady as they do in Prince, Husker Du, and The Replacements. Which meant this show was as much a homecoming game as it was a rock concert, and (rightly or wrongly) emotions, expectations, and more than a few concert-goers were high as hell.
A lot has changed since The Hold Steady's appearance last fall at First Avenue in early weeks following the release of Boys and Girls in America. A year later, you can't swing a dead cat in this town without finding some guy in his 30's who listens to the album on a daily basis. America's Greatest Bar Band has gone from actually playing in bars to opening for the Rolling Stones at Castle Slane in Ireland this summer. The biggest change was in venue, from the friendly confines of First Ave. to the assigned seating of the tres luxe State Theatre (which is usually a venue for Momma Mia! and other touring broadway musicals). This was not a change for the better, as being confined by a seat assignment felt restrictive and created an "energetic barrier" between the band and the crowd. In my case, it almost meant that the tallest, widest people in the state of Minnesota were fixed to the spot in front of me (the drunkest people in Minnesota were on my immediate left and a girl with a voice like a rake being dragged over aluminum siding who insisted on singing along with every word to the right of AC).
The band came out to an Ennio Moricone Spaghetti Western theme and promptly launched into "Party Pit" (cue crowd going 32 flavors of apeshit over the "grain belt bridge... brand new Minneapolis" lyric). The remainder of the first set was the "greatest hits" from Boys and Girls and Seperation Sunday with three new songs thrown in ("Ask Her for Adderal," "Magazines," and "Lord, I'm Discouraged").
Friends, it's the new songs I want to talk about. They were very good and they made me, as a fan who (rightly or wrongly) feels such a proprietary interest in this band, very nervous. How can I put this? They just seemed a little too accessible. Now, before you totally dismiss me as a bitter, aging hipster (some folks call me a "crypster") or a music snob, allow me to explain. I'm not Barry from High Fidelity, I have no problem with populist anthems. But part of what has made The Hold Steady so wonderful for me is the dense and complex content they provide to a basic rock-n-roll form. The new songs sounded, for lack of a better term, simple. The lyrics to the extent I understood them, seemed to be more kind of generic, adult relationship problems type stuff. Nothing wrong with that. As we left, I told AC that I am 99% certain that we will hear Hold Steady songs on KS95 before the end of next year. That's OK. They're a good band and I want to see them get paid, and the dental hygienists of the world sure need some real rock-n-roll in their lives, but I feel like I might be losing something.
The encore went back to the "Almost Killed Me" playbook. As usual, the show wrapped up with the "Killer Parties" finale and Craig's "there's so much joy in what we do up here" homily. (Disclaimer: some are now telling me that "Southtown Girls" was actually the last song of the night, and dammit, they might be right). However, unlike last year, Tad Kubler seemed much more detached from his performance and just chugged through the notes without the extended and ecstatic soloing and crowd interaction we saw before. Maybe he was just tired from touring so much. Hang in there, buddy. In contrast Galen and Franz were acting goofier than hell all through the show. Guys, whatever it is you've got, start sharing.
OTHER CONCERT NOTES:
The first opening band, Federale was a lot of good, dirty fun. Here's how to make a Federale smoothie: throw a bunch of albums by Mountain, Nazareth, Black Sabbath and .38 Special into a blender with about a gallon of bong water - then mix to sleazy, rockin' perfection. I'm pretty sure their tour van has an airbrushed painting of a wizard on the side, along with a bubble window. Sweet.
The other opening act was Art Brut, who seemed to have a brief run as a flavor of the month band back about 18 months ago. Friends, I'm not gonna sugar-coat this: I absolutely despised them. Their music is just plain old bad and everything about them came across as calculated and fake. I know they were going for "zany," or "cleverly stupid," or some shit like that, but it just doesn't work. After about twenty minutes of their set, we went out to the lobby to look for old friends. Spotted: most of the living members of Soul Asylum, and ex-Selby Tiger and Seperation Sunday producer Dave Gardner.