Monday, 2 November 2009

763 THE HOLD STEADY, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Friday 12 December 2008

"I'm going to see this bloody band on this bloody tour, if it bloody kills me," I thought after missing out on the rearranged Oxford show due to tonsillitis, and so, recovered, booked tix for this one. Little did I know that this would be a road trip to rival 2001's Gravel Pit in NYC...

It started just after I left the house at 7 - then got rear-ended by some pillock on the roundabout just round the corner from my house! D'oh! Car checked (rear bumper secured but seems stable enough...), details exchanged, I was on my way again at 7.15, taking it easy on the sodden M4 and stopping at Leigh Delamare for a paranoia check (still looking OK...). Off the M4 just after 8, then hit a bank of Christmas shopping traffic heading into Cabot Circus on the M32, taking 30 minutes to go 3 miles or so towards the Anson Rooms. Worse was to come, though, as it then took half an hour to find a parking space, a horrible, hot-under-the-collar half hour of scouring tiny side streets in increasing panic, getting lost a couple of times and into arguments with white van driving wankers. I was just about to give up and come home when I found a space about as big as the car, parked it and sprinted through the rain. Just had time to hit the merch stand and buy a "The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me" t-shirt (none more apt...), hit the loo (much needed) and get into the hall before the band were on!

And straight into the Husker Du-lite "Constructive Summer", the opener to their fabulous 2008 album "Stay Positive", and as euphoric a rush of rock power as you'd find this year. Wow!

I really don't understand why The Hold Steady aren't everybody's favourite band! They encapsulate my love of rock perfectly with their euphoric melodies and harmonies, their ragged-arsed bar-room rock riffery allied to stadium-sized singalong choruses, their sense of rock history, evoking the lineage of Buffalo Tom, Replacements, Husker Du and yes, unashamedly, Springsteen, their sheer joy and love for playing rock'n'roll. As befits a band on the ascendancy, this was a more polished, professionally delivered set than the one I'd seen them drunkenly deliver 21 months ago in Oxford (when I say "deliver," I mean "try to post through your letterbox, fail, leave on the front porch instead and run away, pissed and giggling"). The perfect segue into "Sequestered In Memphis", the harmonic "woah-whoa"'s backing up the chorus line in "Chips Ahoy", and Tad Kubler's extraordinary middle 8 riff in the wonderful "Lord I'm Discouraged" testified to this.

Craig Finn, all Bob Mould vocal inflections, expansive jerky gestures and stream of consciousness lyrics, was the focal point, guiding the band through this set for the real connoisseur, playing a mighty 23 songs and drawing on all 4 albums equally. Yet "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" apart, all the highlights for me were from the last 2 albums - the Gentlemen-like swagger in "You Can Make Him Like You", the sozzled singalong to a surprisingly good "Southtown Girls", a frankly brilliant "Stuck Between Stations", the light to follow the shade of the first encore, the heart-achingly raw confessional of "First Night"...

I could go on further but I won't. Suffice to say that this was as honest, emotive and brilliant as rock'n'roll currently gets, fully vindicating the tribulations (and the worrying drive home, when I discovered, on returning to the car, that the rear wheelarch was practically scraping the rear tyre!) I went through to see this bloody band on this bloody tour. God bless The Hold Steady!

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