The Hold Steady, The Whigs
July 10th, 2010
Better than: sitting at home and watching that episode of Lost where Hugo mentions The Hold Steady.
There were a few understandable question marks going into The Hold Steady's show on Saturday night.
Would they be able to deliver a great show now that longtime keyboardist Franz Nicolay is no longer in the band? And since the band's latest, Heaven is Whenever, is quite a bit softer than the band's previous albums, does that mean the live set's gonna be a little more mellow?
Backed by two extra touring members and a drive to play songs from all of their albums, those questions were quickly answered. Extra guitarist Steve Selvidge kept playing while frontman Craig Finn would randomly stop playing his guitar, and keyboardist Dan Neustadt pulled off Nicolay's parts effortlessly. The songs from Heaven is Whenever seemed to balance out the rave-up favorites like "You Can Make Him Like You," "Stevie Nix," "Stuck Between Stations," and "The Swish."
Essentially, this was a show for the people who've followed the band from the beginning--but the band did it in a way that was inviting to those that had never seen them play live before.
Like an unrelenting punk band, the band rarely stopped to take a break between songs. One song led to the next and to the next. A technical glitch with Finn's guitar caused a brief pause in the middle of the 23-song set, but, thankfully, the buzz was not killed as the band ripped into the sublime "Sequestered in Memphis."
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Frontman Craig Finn was his usual movin'-n-shakin' self over the course of the 90-minute set, too. Say what you want about the influence of Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer, and Paul Westerberg on Finn, but his stage presence seemed more like a combination of Prince, Randy Newman, and Bad Religion's Greg Graffin. Meaning? He flung his arms above himself with the songs' accents, he looked into the eyes of the people up in front, and he addressed the whole audience like he was in a room full of friends.
As for the audience, which packed the Granada all the way to the top, they responded the strongest to songs from Separation Sunday, Boys and Girls in America, and Stay Positive--a.k.a. the albums that solidified the band's legacy. Songs like "Hot Soft Light" and "Chips Ahoy!" were just some of the ones that got people to sing along with two fists in the air.
Ending their encore with "Stay Positive," the band and audience were in agreement about the power of positive thinking and a full-throttle rock show.
"Stay positive, Dallas," Finn said as the song finished and the band left the stage. Big Star's "Thank You, Friends" played on the P.A. as people slowly trickled out. Quite a nice way to end the show.
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Athens, Georgia's The Whigs got things off to a great start, even though their 40-minute set was an impromptu sort of affair. Due to a death in the family, bassist Tim Deaux couldn't make the show, so The Hold Steady's manager (who had actually briefly played bass with The Whigs a few years ago) was asked to fill in. Frontman/guitarist Parker Gispert explained the situation, played four songs on his own (including a stunning cover of Sparklehorse's "Painbirds"), and then brought out the rest of the band. While the solo performances sounded akin to The Lemonheads and early My Morning Jacket, the full-band portion was a blast of earnest power rock. Judging by the audience's reaction, you could say that there were more than a few converts to the band.
Personal Bias: When I was at the Warped Tour last year, I picked up Stay Positive at the Vagrant merch tent for only five bucks. I can safely say my desire to stick to the record's title has held up.
Random quote: "Heaven is whenever the Hold Steady take the damn stage," read one Tweet on the Granada's Twitter feed that ran on the stage's screens before the headliners' set.
By The Way: There were plenty of bros rockin' the flip-flops in the audience. Good thing there wasn't any moshing that broke out.