Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Our Psalms Are Singalong Songs"

Based on looks alone, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady may seem like an unlikely frontman—you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the band’s accountant—but he is perhaps the most energetic rock band leader I think I’ve seen in a long time. He radiates an enthusiasm and an excitement that carries over into the crowd, and, last night at the Royale Theatre in Boston, I don’t think he stopped smiling once. So when he sings, “You gotta stay positive,” you feel like you’ll seriously disappoint him if you don’t. He’s also pretty tough on mikes and mike stands; his extensive hand gestures (I can sympathize, as everyone in my Toastmasters club would attest; he must be of Italian descent) tended to knock them over and roadies were having a time of it keeping up with him. In fact, the vocal mike wasn’t working for the first few lines of “Chips Ahoy!,” which was okay because everyone in the crowd sang it instead—as they did most songs.

The rest of the band were equally into it, and they tore through almost two dozen songs in a 90-minute set, which leaned heavily on Stay Positive (2008) material, the first and last tracks on the album bookending the concert, starting with the opening call to arms “Constructive Summer,” and closing with the John Cassavetes-inspired “Slapped Actress.” Only one song, “Barfruit Blues” (“She came off kind of spicy but she tasted like those pickle chips”) came from their first album. The Separation Sunday songs, especially “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” seemed to whip the crowd into an even bigger frenzy, and for good reason. “Hornets! Hornets!” (about my basement) with its massive riff (and references to both Vladimir Nabokov and Kate Bush) was a great way to open the encore. Their latest album, Heaven is Whenever, was represented by a scant five songs, although the crowd didn’t seem to warm to them as much as they did the older ones, which is usually the case, except maybe “The Weekenders,” a sequel of sorts to “Chips Ahoy!”—“She said the theme of this party’s the Industrial Age and you came in dressed like a train wreck” (Dickens would approve of that line).

This is a band that knows how to put on a show, not relying on theatrics—or even much verbal banter (Finn, a transplanted Minnesotan, opened with a comment about his beloved Twins)—but terrific musicianship, great songs, and, most importantly, an infectious energy that never takes the fans for granted and conveys the feeling that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than on that stage. It was definitely one of the best shows I’ve been to, and was worth the four years it took to finally get tickets. review here.

Set list:

“Constructive Summer”
“Massive Nights”
“Hurricane J”
“Sequestered in Memphis”
“Barfruit Blues”
“Rock Problems”
“You Can Make Him Like You”
“The Sweet Part of the City”
“Stevie Nix”
“Ask Her for Adderall”
“You Gotta Dance with Who You Came to the Dance With”
“Chips Ahoy!”
“Stuck Between Stations”
“Lord, I’m Discouraged”
“The Weekenders”
“Southtown Girls”
“Your Little Hoodrat Friend”
“Stay Positive”
“A Slight Discomfort”

“Hornets! Hornets!”
“Banging Camp”
“Slapped Actress”

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