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- Posted on Apr 15th 2010 12:00PM by Justin Jacobs
So fans seeing the Hold Steady live -- best experienced in a small, sweaty bar -- often foster a real connection. As one whiskey-sipping fan said at the band's sold-out show in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, "They feel like you do."
The band opened with 'Rock Problems' off the upcoming 'Heaven is Whenever,' due out May 4. Though the new material's been hyped as "more complex," 'Problems' is another song of huge, chunky riffing. It's the Hold Steady through and through, which is to say, the crowd started bouncing immediately. Similarly, new track 'Hurricane J,' with its chorus "I don't want you to settle, I want you to grow," fit in perfectly -- propulsive drums chugging along under the band's three-guitar attack.
The Hold Steady's best songs played out like self-fulfilling prophecies. The heavy, swaggering 'Massive Nights' made the small Pittsburgh club so much larger; jittery, dramatic 'Party Pit' created exactly that in the happy-drunk crowd -- it's shout-along finale "I'm gonna walk around and drink some more" didn't hurt either.
Maybe that line captures the Hold Steady's aesthetic best: Finn can turn a seemingly banal feeling ("I'm upset, so I'm getting drunk/high/laid") into fodder for a huge rock epic. The Hold Steady, in effect, humanizes rock 'n' roll while acknowledging its redemptive nature. In return, the crowd in Pittsburgh danced, sang along, laughed at Finn's anecdotes and basked in the loud, bombastic guitars like, at least for a few hours, nothing else mattered.
'Sequestered in Memphis' sounded ready for a bar fight; 'Barely Breathing,' the weakest of the band's new tracks, was still raw and rousing, Finn's smile plastered on his face even as he sang, "The kids are all distracted/The kids are a distraction."
Amidst the whole rock-is-magic vibe of the night, Finn always kept things light, especially about his confusion about Hibachi restaurants.
"I'm feeling in a sharing mood," he said. "The last time we were here, I walked down the street to a Japanese steakhouse. The clarity in my head was ... not great. A woman asked me if I wanted to eat. I said 'Sure.' And she sat me at a table with three couples on dates. They didn't talk to me and I didn't talk to them. It was the most awkward 50 minutes of my life."
The Hold Steady have held the true believer card for five albums now; after keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the band in January, some questioned if they could, in fact, grow instead of settle. If the gigantic rock gospel of Wednesday night's show is any indication, the Hold Steady aren't waivering; as Finn -- and the entire crowd -- shouted in the band's jubilant finale 'Your Little Hoodrat Friend,' "Damn right, I'll rise again."