Monday, 7 February 2011
805 THE HOLD STEADY, Wintersleep, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 5 February 2011
The 2011 gig year finally gets under way with The Hold Steady, consistently my favourite band of the late “noughties”, and a bit of payback; following my accompanying Rachel to see her current band crush Biffy Clyro at the arse end of ‘10, I’m dragging her along kicking and screaming to see a band she’s not “got” yet. Maybe tonight... Anyway, after a torrid drive down a stormy windswept M4, we parked up early and arrived at the half-full venue (Bristol ! What is wrong with you people?!) in time for support, Canada’s Wintersleep, who played a reasonable set of US alt-guitar rock, veering from reasonable to quite good, and featuring some diverting nasal Ad Frank sound-alike vocals.
The place filled respectably as we took a good viewing spot, extreme stage left; then the lights were killed and the booming intro of The Psychedelic Furs’ classic “Heaven” rang out, as The Hold Steady sauntered onstage, looking for all the world like 5 University lecturers taking a wrong turn on their way back to the common room. “We’re The Hold Steady, it’s Saturday night, we’re going to have a great time,” announced mainman Craig Finn, a bundle of nervous energy in spectacles, as they kicked into the strident blues riff of “Sequestered In Memphis”, a startlingly brilliant sing-along opener about a bar-room pick-up, Craig mockingly adding air-commas to the line, “I went there on business...”
Thence followed a set of rampant, life-affirming, effervescent, joyful, ragged and jagged rock’n’roll of the highest order, played with style, swish and swagger, with titanic, beer-soaked riffery aplenty from guitarist Tad Kubler, and garbling, stream-of-consciousness, semi-spoken tales of killer drug parties, teen adventures by the Mississippi River, and more parties, tumbling headlong from the jerky, kinetic Craig’s brain and mouth. Such is the depth of their material now, it wasn’t until, in response to a request for “a romantic song”, they trotted out “You Can Make Him Like You”, that I noted to Rach, “this is the first number from my favourite album, “Boys And Girls In America”!”. Another sing-along ensued to the hook of, “there’s always other boys, there’s always other boyfriends”. Romantic, pfah!
A roaring, venomous “Constructive Summer”, the best song Husker Du never wrote, saw fists aloft to the line, “raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer”; “Chips Ahoy” raised the roof with its’ terrace chant “whoa-ho”s; but the subsequent “Stuck Between Stations” was mighty, the now all-guitar attack rejigging the mid-section to make light of keyboard player Franz Nicolai’s recent departure. “Hoodrat Friend” featured a slightly overlong middle eight guitar interplay break, but roared back with a strident vengeance, and the soaring sing-along during “Massive Nights” closed out a brilliant set. A four song encore featured another rousing “woah-ho” sing-along for the agenda-setting “Stay Positive”, before the exuberant Craig thanked us profusely for being a part of a brilliant night. A corking show from a band clearly in love with what they do; I know it’s only February, but I‘ll be hard pushed to see a more enjoyable, life-affirming set this year. Wow. Just… Wow.
Oh, and Rach finally pinpointed why she doesn’t “get” this band; “musically they’re fine, it’s just him (Craig)! He’s annoying and uses far too many words!” Hmmm, well, there’s always been an excessive verbiage element to my music…!