It’s hard not to love The Hold Steady live. They work so hard up there and look to be having so much fun that it’s infectious. That being said, I’m still not sure I actually like the Hold Steady. They remind a lot of Great Big Sea, in that they both sound & act like better-than-average college-town bar-bands that somehow made it far bigger than they themselves ever expected to.
The crowd at the show was quite a mix – young scenesters just discovering the joy of drunken fun beyond all the serious posing & older Gen X’ers reminiscing about when they could still go out and get drunk and go somewhere else for one more drink before heading home. There was an enormous man next to me who looked to be in his 40s, his nose already proudly showing off its broken capillaries who kept tossing back cans of Budweiser, but he seemed to know every word to every song and was loving every one. Up front, there were fist-pumping, hand-clapping and joyful sing-alongs by the packed throngs.
Their lead singer reminds of Woody Allen, if he was younger & had formed a rock band – he’s nebbish & twitchy and immediately adorable (Alternate opinion: He looks like a coked-up Seth Klein). On the flipside, I don’t doubt he’d drop you with a vicious head-butt if you pissed him off. He runs a good stage show, which is important as the lead guitarist, who looked somewhat like Wash from Serenity, was only a shadow on stage. They keyboardist, who looked somewhat like a re-animated zombie from a pre-WWII speakeasy jazz band, had character, but it was a study in cool, from his twirled moustache & immaculate pin-stripe suit, down to his just-too-calculated little dances as he played the keyboards. Were he not so good at what he was doing, was the music not so infectious, it would’ve been too much. As such though, it was a great counter-point to the workman-like appeal of the rest of the band.
I find myself continuously coming back to this idea of a bar-band with the Hold Steady, which made the venue just a little bizarre. I said last night that they looked & sounded like they belonged in that roadhouse bar from The Blues Brothers where the band played behind a cage and there was endless bottles being flung at them, and fights all around but surely, surely they’d win the drunks over and we’d all be singing “Boys Go For Looks/Girls go for status” together by the end of the night.