Normally I hate people who say "I liked them when nobody else did" but in the case of the Hold Steady and their recent UK wave of hype I've even ended up saying it myself. The main reason for this is that I honestly believe that the album that everyone is going mad for ('Boys and Girls in America') doesn't excite me nearly as much as its predecessor 'Separation Sunday'. The new one is a fine slab of mainstream rock n roll, but 'SS' is an emotional, edgy barroom punk-rock concept album and one of my favourite records of the last couple of years. It will finally be made available in the UK in May.
That said I was so excited about seeing them in the reasonably intimate (and sold out) venue that even if they only played the new stuff I would be happy. That's pretty much what they do for the first half hour and it's fine - 'Stuck Between Stations' the best track on B+GIA kicks off the show and it's clear that we are in for a treat. 'Hot Soft Light', 'Chips Ahoy' and a frenetic 'Same Kooks' keep up the pace - the band really going for it on this last night of their European tour. They look like a band that have been on tour for ages, the hair has gotten wilder and Craig Finn is sporting a Springsteen circa '73 beard. He's on fire too, his manic energy means that he even mouths the words he's just sung over again, even though he's just sung them!
'Massive Night' and 'Party Pit' are two singalongs firmly rooted in classic rock and the crowd just lap them up, but even better is the rare 'Modesto is Not that Sweet' which brings the pace down and shows off the keyboard player's skill on the accordion. More anthemic stuff with 'You Can Make Him Like You' and then they finally revisit 'Separation Sunday' for the triple whammy of 'Multitude of Casualties', 'Stevie Nix' and 'Your Little Hoodrat Friend' and for me anyway, the gig suddenly becomes very special. 'Hoodrat' is the catchiest thing they play all night, but the previous two tunes bridge the gap from their earlier incarnation as Lifter Puller and where they are now. After some words about his Irish ancestry and what a fun time they are all having in Dublin they are off, returning with the downbeat and very lovely 'Citrus' for the first encore. 'First Night' follows and is what rock critics refer to as a 'ballad', someone even cheekily waves a lighter in the air! Having played nearly all of the new album they leave us with a couple of older tunes 'Cattle and the Creeping Things revisits the biblical themes of Separation Sunday, and a new arrangement of 'Killer Parties' from the first album puts a fitting end to the night.
I always have a soft spot for bands who mention themselves in the lyrics, and the last phrase Craig leaves hangin in the air is 'Hold Steady'.
They'll definitely be back, they loved it, we enjoyed it, and next time they might even play 'The Swish'. Rock n roll fun!