Off once again to see The Hold Steady, possibly my favourite band over the last 7 or 8 years and for me the band that, above all others, currently encapsulates my love for this many-splendored thing called rock’n’roll. It’s a lengthy jaunt up to B’rum tonight, as their Bristol gig next week in support of tremendous new album “Teeth Dreams”, likely my favourite of 2014, coincides with our family break in Butlins! Still, after the form they displayed at their Bush Hall gig back in May, I’d go to the ends of the Earth to see them, so Birmingham is just a quick drive up the road in comparison! If further incentive be needed (hah!), support is provided by The So So Glos, probably my favourite new band discovery of this year, a raucous, terrace chant anthemic punk rock rabble also known for instigating the “Shea Stadium” venue and recording space regularly haunted by the likes of the Mighty Titus Andronicus.
A real potential double whammy in prospect, so nothing’s standing in the way of this one for me! I duly drove into work and set off directly at my Monday afternoon 3.30 finishing time (usually to fetch the kids but tonight to fetch the rock!), purposefully hitting a sodden road oop North, and arriving at the venue after a wet old journey 20 minutes before doors. A filthy night, this; even the touts stayed in their cars and shouted, “got any spare? Buy or sell,” at passers-by! I was second in at just after 7 (the venue not being prepared to throw us damp early-comers a bone and open up early), hitting this upstairs venue resembling the Oxford Zodiac room in both size and orientation, thence sitting and watching the place slowly fill up.
A poor turnout early doors – it was barely 1/3 full by 8, so I got a spot on the barriers, stage left, quite easily for the So So Glos’ entrance. This young Brooklyn 4-piece took the stage, and the stage stayed well and truly took! Storming into the strident, ballsy opener “Son Of An American”, a swaggering statement of intent, they were dynamic, kinetic, intense and committed from the outset, playing their powerful, upbeat punk rock with a raucous, carefree attitude. Surprisingly more punchy, powerful and together “live” in comparison to their nevertheless excellent album “Blowout”, which often feels like Black Flag’s seminal “TV Party” times 10 and consequently on the verge of collapse at any moment, they nonetheless surfed constantly on the ragged edge, delivering a thrilling set. “This song’s about Xanax, America’s legal drug dealers!” announced wide-eyed vocalist Alex for third number, the breathless “Xanax”. That’s punk attitude for you! “Wrecking Ball” featured some in-your-face rap call-and-response vocals and a crushing terrace chant hook, whilst “Speakeasy” recalled early Hot Hot Heat with its’ yelping vocals and bass-powered rhythm. However the penultimate number “Everything Revival” was the highlight; unplanned but shouted for by (and subsequently dedicated to!) me, this was utterly magnificent, a joyous punk rock romp with a soaring singalong hook, which I shouted raucously from my front row spot. Great stuff!
Follow that, gents! The place finally filled up but was by no means full, as I kept my barrier spot and chatted with some fellow front row punters, before The Velvet Underground’s “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together” heralded the entrance of The Hold Steady, just after 9. “Like the man said, we’re gonna have a good time together!” announced effusive frontman Craig Finn as the band raced headlong into the careering, Ramones-like opener “Ask Her For Adderall”. And we were away on another Hold Steady thrill ride, Finn as ever everywhere, exhorting the crowd, repeating lines off-mic, and generally revelling in the sheer unalloyed delight at being the singer in a rock’n’roll band. “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” and the brilliant swaggering blues of “Sequestered In Memphis” were similar early highlights, Finn again sarcastically emphasising the line, “I went there on business..”
“Truth is a squirrelly concept in rock and roll… one thing is true, you CAN make him like you!” announced Finn by introduction to that number; indeed the frontman was on verbal overload tonight, his endless yet entertaining between-song banter matching the articulate verbiage overload of his lyrics. One such soliloquy started with, “I think we’re a pretty good bar band,” and ended with a headlong tumble into the roaring “Constructive Summer”, whilst the next kicked off with, “this is important, so humour me,” went off on a tangent into a debate on the development of the Internet (!), finally returning with, “my point being… there are SO many ways you could be spending your Monday night, yet you’re all here!”
The subsequent “Spinners” (“about going out”) was the set highlight, ebullient, all inclusive and joyfully rendered by the enthusiastic Finn and a band totally on top of their game. Occasionally muddy sound couldn’t spoil the fun tonight, as I again abandoned myself to the moment and bounced along throughout, singing myself hoarse and ignoring the inevitable sore knees the next day. Some light and shade too – “Ambassador” diffused the mood before Tad Kubler delivered the plangent opening riff to the inevitable “Stuck Between Stations”. A Motown-esque “What A Resurrection Feels Like” segued into a singalong “Walk On By”, to close a breathless set.
We got another soliloquy from Finn, a man after my own heart, who also believes in cutting a short story long, during the encores, then a ragged, none-more appropriate “Stay Positive” ended a brilliant 1 hour 40 performance. Gathered my thoughts, chatted and hung awhile with the Merch stand-bound So So Glos, then hit an utterly awash A38 out of Birmingham and a less sodden M5 home, catching my breath. Tonight The Hold Steady were again utterly imperious, and cemented their reputation as, for me, the finest purveyors of rock music right now. But spare a thought for The So So Glos; tonight 4 Brooklyn upstarts went toe to toe with the best band on Planet Earth and emerged with flying colours. So as I said, a real double whammy!