The Hold Steady @ Warsaw

Damn. Just damn.

I probably never would have expanded my appreciation of the Hold Steady if I didn't have plans to go to this show. I always thought they had a couple good songs and a slightly jarring lead singer who prefers shout/talking the lyrics. 

But I heard they were awesome live so I got tickets and spent a lot more time with their two albums which steadilly grew on me. The lyrics especially began jumping out as funny, weird, smart, and decidedly different from the standard ambiguous, heart-on-sleeve stuff. They're more like stories about really fucked up people with seriously unexpected geographic(Ybor city) and pop culture(Drop Dead Fred) references. They are songs about being young, high and American in very sketchy circles. While the self-destructive world he describes is one we have all encountered at some point and wisely backed away from, Frontman Craig Finn's characters star in it. Nose bleeds from sniffing Margarita mix. Coming into the E.R. drinking juice from a jam jar. Trying to buy drugs from Mackenzie Phillips. He consistently serves up imagery that you secretly wish you had the balls to be a part of.

Last night was a between-tours show in their local hood of Williamsburg(Greenpoint I guess). I have never in my life seen an indie crowd so into a show. It was a solid hour and a half of pogo-ing, capped off with "Killer Parties" as an encore that blew the doors off the Polish National Home. Their rep as a fun-as-hell bar band doesn't begin to describe how fun it is. Know the songs. Then see this band.

My only regret is not hiring them to play my wedding.


Anonymous said...

book them and renew your vows.

Anonymous said...

your other wedding regret was not registering at B&H. where are you registered, by the way?

Mark said...

When the band hit the stage it was like a tornado. They ran out and took their positions, staked their claim for stage space. All except the piano player looking like they were on their way to high school or a job or something just regular as you and me. There was brightness in the eyes of the crowd, an expectation that was beyond adulation. These folks needed a jolt of something and in that instant I knew I needed it too. I wasn’t disappointed. I haven’t been to a show like this in 25 years. From the moment Finn started singing his tales of misspent youth in suburbia, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Whether anyone had seen them before was a moot point. The crowd was singing right along with the band, and they could be heard over the stacks of Marshall amps that were on either side of the stage. There was a push towards the stage and I was caught somewhere in the middle and went with the tide, swept along in this undertow till I was right up front. Craig Finn, the obvious leader of the band was elated with the response and was moving with the music, this kind of spastic jerking movement that was between dancing and some kind of ancient tribal ritual that we all know from our youth and some of these kids were just learning. Even as he spat out the words with a fire that I just haven’t heard in so long, he had this smile going as if he couldn’t believe the mess he had created out on the dance floor. He wielded his guitar as if it was a baton moving the crowd back and forth, undulating, sweating along with everyone. The lead guitar player ripping off leads that were part Angus Young, part Clapton. It became more than just a show it was a revival meeting and we were one. People I had never met before grabbed my shirt and screamed lyrics at me, and we sang along in this joyous rebellion against everything boring and mundane. Occasionally Finn would reach back to the drum riser and grab a bottle of Budweiser and take large gulps causing the foam to bubble up and run down the front of his shirt. By mid show he was soaked. I was watching the interplay between the bass player and the drums and it was amazing to hear the foundation they were laying down for the two guitarists to build on. I noticed the old bass that was being played looked like it was worn down to the wood, and he carried it like a gunslinger might wield a rifle, low on his hip and fluid. The guy on the piano played as pretty as the professor ever might and even in the bombastic assault of the rest of the band they left the door open for him. In the middle of this sonic assault a sweet melody would trickle out. It was beautifully angry.

I guess the thing that caught me the most was that there were no cell phones out, nobody seemed anxious to tell someone about how close they were or what song they were hearing. The focus was on the band and the music. The people who were there were there to be healed. The music was everything. Every eye was on that stage. For me the best thing was that the band watched the people with as much enthusiasm as we watched them. It was a reciprocal event. When they finished the show with the song “Killer Parties” I felt spent and rejuvenated all at the same time.
I didn’t want it to end but I wasn’t sure I could go on anymore. My shirt and pants were soaked through and through, from sweat and water and beer. when the lights came on the floor was littered with bottles and empty plastic cups, but the faces of the people bore witness to seeing something special. It was one of those shows that you know people will talk about forever and maybe sometime down the line they will be able to say “I was there that night”, and some will say it even if they weren’t because they wanted to be.

Anonymous said...

Is this a blog inside a blog?

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