The Hold Steady are known as a quintessential live band. I never doubted this but until I saw it for myself I never realized how true it is. Since I am currently Sequestered (but not subpoenaed) in Baton Rouge during the weeknights, when I saw that The Hold Steady was playing at a cozy venue like Chelsea's, I could not say no. (To hell with auditors who need info early the next morning.) In the Case of The Hold Steady seeing is believing. These guys have as much fun as any band touring. In fact they have as much fun as their audience.
Chelsea's had to be one of the smaller venues they played on this tour. This intimate college bar located not too far away from the LSU campus proved to have great acoustics and provided a perfect environment. Speaking of the environment, it would not be Louisiana without the humidity, which created another important ingredient to a live Rock N' Roll show, sweat. In fact, Craig Finn paid homage to Louisiana's French heritage by declaring it, "Hotter than a French whorehouse in here." The crowd on hand was dominated by Hold Steady fans who seemed to know the lyrics to every song. They opened with the song "Constructive Summer" from the new album Stay Positive On this song when Finn sang, "Raise a toast to old Joe Strummer. I think he was our only decent teacher." The crowd (myself included) instinctively raised our bottles and toasted along. Which confirmed another statement in that song which declares "our songs are sing-along songs."
Craig Finn interacted well with the audience. Dancing around on stage, he looked like a cross between Steve Martin dancing on the front porch in The Jerk and Pee Wee Herman's "Tequila" dance. It was so quirky and lacking in Rhythm it was cool. The coolest member of the band though was keyboardist Franz Nicolay. He was wearing a fedora and black suit that made him look like a mafia don. His stage presence and facial expression give the band its' panache. Not to mention Franz is an accomplished keyboardist. Just as impressive was Tad Kubler on lead guitar. At one point he played a solo on the 12-string neck of a bad-ass double neck guitar. His guitar solos were an unexpected surprise.
The song that came off the best live was surprisingly "Stay Positive" the title cut off the new record. The set was composed mainly if material off of the new record and Boys and Girls in America. "Massive Nights" from that release really stood out. Not surprisingly, they saved "Stuck Between Stations" for the encore. This crowd pleaser had everyone singing so loud Craig Finn could have let the crowd take over. In my opinion, The Hold Steady represent everything that makes Rock great and their live show only enhanced that opinion.
This cut from Letterman will give you a feel:
This review also appears on Twangville