The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady


The Hold Steady, a five-piece band based in Brooklyn, has brought its rock and roll show to Academy 3 tonight. When tickets first went on sale, I decided to head down to the student union the next working day to pick some up. Mistake. The gig was sold out by then. Having seen the band before in considerably larger venues like Academy 2 and Koko in London, I really should have foreseen that tonight’s gig, in the Academy’s smallest of its four rooms, might sell out quickly.

With its capacity of just 450, in hindsight I don’t know why Academy 3 was chosen. Perhaps it was felt that the band’s break in recording from 2010 until this year would have resulted in lost momentum and reduced interest in the live show, or maybe the band just wanted a more intimate, club feel. In any case, given that I was able to get hold of a ticket in the end, I am certainly happy to see the band in a room where several of my most memorable gigs down the years have taken place.

The source of my ticket is a member of The Unified Scene, a group of hardcore THS fans, who happened to have a spare. Meeting up at the Big Hands bar pre-gig, one of the first people I see on arrival is Craig Finn, the Hold Steady’s frontman, casually having a drink and hanging out with the fans. I thought I would be past the starstruck-teenager-meeting-a-pop-star feeling by now, but apparently I am not. I smile at Finn and let others do the talking. Chatting with these Unified Scene guys and girls, I am in my element swapping stories and discussing favourite gigs, albums and songs.

With my ticket secured, by now the heavy rain from earlier in the evening has abated, and we make the short walk along Oxford Road and head on up to Academy 3. With typical high-intensity the band gets through the first half-dozen songs in no time, choosing from across the back catalogue along the way. Given that the band’s songs are often set at parties, those paying close attention to Finn’s lyrics down the years will have noted how a band, perhaps a fictional one, will sometimes be present and will have a tendency to segue one song into the next. THS is fond of doing likewise live, and tonight we get an early example as the fist-pumping thrash of ‘Constructive Summer’ moves breathlessly into ‘Hot Soft Night’.

Teeth Dreams

Teeth Dreams

The exhilarating ‘Multitude of Casualties’, my favourite THS song, soon follows. Not necessarily a band known for its strong melodies usually, I find this song endlessly singable, with a guitar part that transforms from chugging to chiming mid-way through when played live, and there’s just line after line of lyrical brilliance. The pace of proceedings finally relaxes with the soft guitars of ‘The Ambassador’, named after a bar behind which some act of revenge seems to take place. ‘The Weekenders’ has a trippier feel than on record, whereas the riff-heavy ‘Banging Camp’ stays mostly faithful to the Separation Sunday original.

The band members are looking remarkably well considering that they seem to tour pretty much constantly. His usual hyper and happy self, Finn doesn’t play guitar at all tonight, which is the first time I’ve seen that, and instead leaves six-string duties to the two lead guitarists Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge. Aside from Finn, bassist Galen Polivka is the most animated, seemingly being possessed by the music and, for brief moments when his bass sounds are not required, playfully mimicking Finn’s mouth movements with his hand. Drummer Bobby Drake, a bit of a character, looks less well than the others and is sporting a black eye.

‘Stuck Between Stations’, arguably the band’s most well known and well loved song is preceded by a spoken introduction by Finn as he tells us what the song is about for him. Then, as Finn is interrupted by a member of the audience, Kubler chimes in light-heartedly with a comment that it’s a “song about patience” as well, before Finn jokes that forgiveness and love are also themes of the song.

For the most part, though, the band lets the songs do the talking, the main exception being Finn’s trademark “so much joy” monologue about the community spirit of the band and its fans during ‘Killer Parties’, the last song of the encore. As the song’s familiar after-party groove and atmospherics first reach my ears I remember chatting before the gig to a girl who was desperate to hear this song as it wasn’t played a few nights ago when she saw the band at Live at Leeds. I feel chuffed for her, and chuffed for everyone present tonight privileged enough to witness the band in an intimate venue and, six albums into its career, with such a vast wealth of songs to pick from.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.