On Tuesday, Oct. 5, The Hold Steady brought their “Heaven is Whenever” tour to Philadelphia.The Hold Steady is an indie-rock band from Brooklyn that combines blunt, half-spoken lyrics with layered rock tones. The band was formed by Craig Finn (lead vocals) and Tad Kubler (guitar), both formerly of the band Lifter Puller.
A unique aspect to The Hold Steady is their wide audience. Even though the majority of their lyrics are riddled with references to drugs, sex and gambling, devoted fans range from college-age students to their grandparents.
I was speaking to an older gentlemen prior to the show’s start, who was also seeing the band for the first time. His motivation came from noticing the similarities between The Hold Steady and The Kinks, an English rock band known for hits like “You Really Got Me.” He commented on the common traits between both lead singers:
“The one thing I expect out of Craig Finn is great writing,” he said. “Great writing and great expression.”
The opening band for the Trocadero show was Wintersleep, an indie band from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wasn’t overly impressed with Wintersleep – the most unpredictable element about their set was that they started promptly at 8 p.m.
The lead singer had a nasally wasp to his voice, which, like my initial reaction to Craig Finn, took several songs to get used to. I also was distracted by their stage presence; each band member seemed to be wearing a different shade of skinny jean.
In addition, the lead singer would turn his knees and feet inwards (as if he missed the bathroom break before the show) every time he hit a higher note in his range – which happened a lot.
Ironically, I was most visually drawn to the bassist, who was tucked away in a shadow behind the band’s amps. Besides having the best sense of rhythm and groove, he had pretty difficult and forefront parts that changed from song to song.
The rest of the music however, became very predictable. Each song had the same frame with different lyrics and keys tossed around, which made the band sound self-generic. The drum parts seemed too simple for the music; much more space could have been filled. Also, the singer could do with a shot or two of espresso and a limit on vocal echo settings.
I really tried to like Wintersleep, but knowing I was seeing a band as dynamic and versatile as The Hold Steady forced me to judge them against that level of talent. Little errors, such as the lead singer leaving his guitar untuned for part of a song, also didn’t impress me. Overall, I’d give them a B-, in that they’re enjoyable to listen to while multitasking, but I wouldn’t buy a ticket to a headlining show.
The Hold Steady walked out to the theme song from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” before switching straight into “Positive Jam,” linking into “Stuck Between Stations.”
It became quite clear from the first few chords that Craig Finn is actually meant to hold a guitar as opposed to actually play it. This doesn’t matter however, due to his stage presence being so overpowering that it’s easy to forget he’s holding an instrument.
Finn creates wide gestures that emphasize the music behind him; exaggerating the accented chords and creating a contagious energy, leaving his guitar to be more of an ornament than a contributing instrument. Combined with the talent around him, The Hold Steady creates a raw, naked experience of music and emotion.
The set list consisted of a wide range of songs from earlier and more recent albums. My favorite song, “You Can Make Him Like You,” was seventh in the set, with one of my favorite lyrics: “you can wear his old sweatshirt, you can cover yourself like a bruise.” This song was followed by “Stevie Nix,” “Multitude of Casualties” and “Hot Soft Light,” in which the two guitarists (who were not Craig Finn) dueled within the solo.
It seemed only fitting that afterwards, Finn would strum quarter notes to introduce the next song.
“I play this chord and it sounds sad. But it’s not a sad song, it’s about a boy and a girl and a horse,” Finn said, before the entire band broke into the opening riff of “Chips Ahoy!”
The energy continued throughout the set, ending with “Killer Parties.” After a few minutes of applause and shouts, the band came back out to play a four-song encore.
Unfortunately, for all the awesome fans in the venue, there was one which decided the spotlight should be his. A crowdsurfer, repeatedly told by security to stay “grounded,” made his way onto the stage in the guitar jam portion of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.”
While the three guitarists stood in a triangle on the opposite side of the stage, the delinquent resisted security and began to start pulling at the band’s equipment for support.
From my seat, it then appeared that he received a swift punch to the face by a security member (though I’ve heard since then he was actually kicked), prior to being escorted off the stage.
It was easy to see that Finn and the rest of the band were very uncomfortable while this was taking place, but they handled it gracefully and transitioned appropriately into “Stay Positive” before closing the show with “How a Resurrection Really Feels.”
As a semi-frequent concert-goer, I have to place this set near the top of my “favorites” list. The energy was constant throughout, and the set as a whole was tight and flowed in a very precise way. Overall, I’d give this show an A-, with points only really taken off due to factors outside of The Hold Steady’s control.
Tara Tanzos is a fourth-year student majoring in English and minoring in creative writing. She can be reached at TT649875@wcupa.edu.