The Hold Steady
Thursday, October 7
Better than: Cirque de Soleil’s Banana Shpeel or whatever usually goes on here.
I’m sure some of those Allman Brothers shows get pretty rowdy, but I still can’t help but suspect that I’m witnessing the Beacon Theatre’s first-ever crowd-surfer tonight, taking flight just briefly during “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” the guy looking both thrilled and a little incredulous: This doesn’t make any sense, and it’s awesome. “When I said, ‘Let’s go uptown,’ I meant something else,” is the second time Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn references his band’s unlikely presence here. The first: “Move around, drink some beer, and ignore those seats.” You got it.
Craig is the sort of eternal optimist who can start a set with a song called “Constructive Summer” mere minutes after his beloved Twins go down 2-0 in an October playoff series — 23 songs later he’s giving the time-honored “There is so much joy in what we do up here” speech. To start off, the Hold Steady try to tear the place down: a seven-song blast of their loudest, bawdiest, most overpowering three-guitar (well, sort of) bar-rock, no room for nuance, relief, breath: “Sequestered in Memphis” and “The Swish” and “Rock Problems” blasting off one after the other, exhilarating and all-consuming. And from there, they diversify, the more expansive moments from this year’s Heaven Is Wherever bubbling up — the slightest whiff of country on “The Sweet Part of the City,” the quiet-verse-loud-chorus grandeur of “The Weekenders,” the semi-power ballad (complete with dueling-guitar Top Gun-style solos) of “We Can Get Together.”
I say “sort of” because Craig’s habit of holding a guitar while very very rarely actually playing it is my favorite aspect of the Hold Steady live experience: Someone should do like a MOMA performance-art exhibit called Craig Finn in Concert where all you can hear is his guitar, offering maybe five chords and 15 seconds of stimuli per song. Very minimalist. Which his band, of course, is not, ending tonight with a multiple-climax burst of anthems: “Stay Positive” if you want to shout along, “Southtown Girls” if you want to sway and get all wistful, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” if you want to crowd-surf, I guess. In Craig’s other extended harangue of the evening he gives the exact date he moved to NYC — September 15, 2000 — and traces the boredom that led him to this band, and the band inexplicably to the Beacon, a joint with opulence we don’t really even notice and seats we never use. “This is just what we wanted,” goes the last line of “Rock Problems,” which on record sounds like sarcasm, but in person very much does not.
Critical Bias: Probably obvious at this point.
Overheard: No conversations about Carl Pavano’s prowess, that’s for sure.
Random Notebook Dump: The merch booth was selling all their CDs for $10 apiece, which is both rare and notable, I think — if you charge any more you’re playing yourself.
Sequestered in Memphis
You Can Make Him Like You
The Sweet Part of the City
Multitude of Casualties
You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With)
Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
We Can Get Together
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Stuck Between Stations