Wow, what a show. The Hold Steady made a long overdue appearance at Crescent Ballroom last night on the Teeth Dreams tour, but mostly stuck to older material. The music was far from perfect, but that's the beauty of going to a Hold Steady show.
The Hold Steady hasn't performed in Arizona since a Tucson show in 2008, a couple of months before Stay Positive was released. The band's last Phoenix show was at Marquee Theatre in 2007. It blows my mind that seven years ago, The Hold Steady drew a fairly large crowd at the Marquee.
A lot has changed for the band since then, most notably the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay. The band's subsequent releases, Heaven is Whenever and Teeth Dreams, are a bit more rock-oriented, and aren't quite as good as albums like Separation Sunday - -though that's usually the case when a band has been touring for over a decade.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this show. The Hold Steady circa 2007 was incredible, but this was my first time seeing the band without Franz, and I would have been perfectly content just hearing songs from the band's first three records.
That anxiety melted away as soon as The Hold Steady took the stage and opened with "Positive Jam." I assumed that the band's set would focus on Teeth Dreams songs, but instead, The Hold Steady performed an hour and a half of songs that spanned its entire catalog.
If anything, the set was Boys and Girls in America-heavy. The show was bookended by songs from Almost Killed Me and Boys and Girls. Some of the songs in the middle were surprising, after performing "On With the Business," the band had an issue with its drums, so someone shouted out a request for "Citrus," and vocalist Craig Finn smirked and said to the fan, "that's a good idea, you should write our setlists."
"Citrus" was a nice breather after hearing "Positive Jam" and "Stuck Between Stations" back to back. The drummer figured things out partway through "Citrus," and the last half of the song was performed as a full band. "You Can Make Him Like You" followed, and the bulk of the front row sang along.
The band followed with a few more upbeat songs, including "Magazines," then performed the stunningly beautiful "First Night," which sounded great before "Constructive Summer" and "Hot Soft Light."
Guitarist Tad Kubler mimicked the keyboard tones with his massive array of pedals. It's not quite the same as having Franz in the band, but it got the job done. The Hold Steady sounds a bit different live than on the records, but it works well.
Craig Finn often changes the pace of the vocals, which is fun and frustrating all at the same time. My favorite instance of this was the end of "Massive Nights," when he paused after every few words toward the end of the song. He said "when the chaperone..." and mouthed things to the audience. He told a short story, and some fans asked, "crowned us the what?" Finn responded with a smile, never actually saying "the king and the queen," instead, introduced "Chips Ahoy" as a song about "a guy, a girl, and a horse."
The Hold Steady's songs work together quite well, Hallelujah and Charlemagne's various appearances are some of the best parts of the band's earlier material. I didn't realize until last night's show that "The Weekenders" might be a sequel to "Chips Ahoy"--after all, there was that whole weird thing with the horses and having a little clairvoyance.
The Hold Steady isn't a band for everyone, but the band's lyrics are fantastic. It was great to be part of a large crowd singing "She said the theme of this party is the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a train wreck" during "The Weekenders."
Craig Finn also changed a few lyrics. During "Stay Positive," he swapped out the reference to Youth of Today for Arizona's own JFA. "Massive Nights" was a bit more R-rated, thanks to references to fucking, and the band closed out with "Killer Parties" and changed one of the Ybor City lines to "Arizona's largest city."
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The Hold Steady at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: The Hold Steady is one of my all-time favorite bands. The Crowd: White middle-aged guys who listen to NPR. Overheard in the Crowd: "I'd do drugs with Craig Finn if he offered" - a friend who doesn't actually do drugs. Personal Moment of Glee: Craig Finn complimented my American Steel shirt.
Setlist: Positive Jam Stuck Between Stations On With the Business Citrus You Can Make Him Like You Sequestered in Memphis I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You Rock Problems Magazines First Night Constructive Summer Hot Soft Light Spinners Ambassador Weekenders Stay Positive Your Little Hoodrat Friend South Town Girls
Encore: Oaks Massive Nights Chips Ahoy Killer Parties
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