The Hold Steady at First Avenue, 11/24/12

The Hold Steady at First Avenue, 11/24/12
Photo by Larisa Johnson

The Hold Steady
With Murder By Death
First Avenue, Minneapolis
November 24, 2012

In addition to his surprising vocal contribution to the Tribute to the Replacements show on Friday night, Craig Finn and his Hold Steady crew had some official band business to take care of in town over the Thanksgiving weekend, beginning with a sold-out show on Saturday night at First Avenue (followed by a repeat performance on Sunday as well). And while the packed house was into nearly everything the Brooklyn-based quartet with the strong Twin Cities roots was serving up during their rousing 110-minute set, including three brand new songs, the performance hit quite a few lulls along the way and, until the incendiary encore, was lacking that distinctive spark which would have truly made the night special.

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The band took to the stage to a rousing ovation, and wasted little time kicking things into gear with a spirited take on "Multitude Of Casualties," with the crowd cheering wildly when Lowertown got a mention. "Stuck Between Stations" kept the strong start going, with Finn taking on his typical role as band cheerleader, trying to both get the audience amped as well as forging a connection with them. There was the first of many crowdsurfers throughout the show during a rather tame take on "Hurricane J," which began the band's gradual descent into a tepid portion of the set which sadly lasted until the second half of the show.

Even the normally exhilarating "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" and "The Swish" sounded a bit punchless, but Finn still seemed thrilled to be spending the night back home, saying he saw his brand new 7-day-old niece over the holidays, and how thankful he was to be back at First Avenue, thanking many members of the club's hardworking staff by name. But the music just didn't quite live up to the moment, as "Rock Problems," "Magazines," and "Sweet Part of the City," filled as it is with many tender local references, just failed to catch much of a fire.

The first of three new songs kept the spirit of the show dragging a bit, as the track was a slow, listless number that the band was still trying to work out how to play live. The song featured a typical unnamed female protagonist who was spending her time being wasted, sad, reckless, or a combination of all three, with the track building up to Finn's closing verse about "Last night her teeth were in my dreams." It continues the trend on the past two Hold Steady records of songs filled with characters the listener doesn't care much about and uninspired melodies that don't prove to be all that memorable.

Finn jokingly asked the crowd, "Have I met any of you before? Was it last night? Well, if you've met me before then you know that I rarely tell the truth, and when I do it's really quietly to myself." He then went on to namecheck true statements within the annals of rock 'n' roll lyrics, including the Beastie Boys claiming "White Castle fries only come in one size." He then confidently threw "You Can Make Him Like You" into the mix, complete with subtle reworking of the lyrics to include a Vikings reference to make the show even more Minnesota-based.

"Constructive Summer" and "Hot Soft Light" both proved to be good Saturday night anthems, but again the energy level dropped a bit during another unfamiliar new song which Finn is calling "Wait Awhile." "I know that doesn't sound much like a kickass rock song," Finn teased afterwards. "That sounds far too cautious." And cautious is certainly one way to describe most of the set, as the songs were delivered well enough, but lacked that potency and edge which the evening demanded.

After a tame run through of "Chips Ahoy," the band broke out another new song, which Craig dedicated to "Whoever was in this room in the summer of '88. Bonus points if you were next door at the Youth of Today show" (which Finn references in "Barely Breathing). And while the track speaks of hearing the right song at the right time, and how every story has three versions of the truth, it didn't quite resonate with the well-lubricated crowd who wanted to hear more familiar material.

"Sequestered in Memphis" and "Southtown Girls" got the crowd back into it and singing boisterously along, but it wasn't until "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" before the group truly set the place off. But even then, the blistering track was slowed down by a lengthy guitar jam in the middle of the song, robbing the number of a bit of its raw energy, before finally kicking back in and getting the audience dancing again. "Massive Nights" kept the show swinging, but a rather meandering rendition of "Slapped Actress" closed the main set out unevenly.

But if there's one thing the Hold Steady know how to do, it's close down a show with a bang, and their encore was truly fantastic. After Finn retook the stage with a sheepish grin and announced that "I guess the only thing we've got to figure out is what to do after," he warmly shared that both his and drummer Bobby Drake's parents were in the crowd, adding "I've got to apologize to my dad for playing opposite the Notre Dame football game." But there was no reason to apologize for the encore, as the band had it in high gear throughout, starting with a fiery version of "Positive Jam" and never letting up off of the gas once.

"Stay Positive" incorporated Finn's standard "There is so much JOY in what we do" speech, and segued smoothly into the rousing show closer "Killer Parties Almost Killed Me" that got the crowd dancing along wildly to the untamed rhythm. "We're the Hold Steady, and you're Minneapolis, Minnesota, and we fucking LOVE you!" Finn exclaimed as the band exited the stage, and while the show ended explosively, the band needs to find some way to match that intensity for an entire show.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I've seen the Hold Steady over ten times since 2004, and while their performances are always fun, I feel the same way about their shows as I do about the Flaming Lips--the novelty of their live shows have worn off a bit, and every performance has started to look and sound exactly the same, with very few surprises or unplanned moments.

The Crowd: Lots of bros and lots of dads, all getting their drink on.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I need to get a pair of those [Finn's] glasses."

Random Notebook Dump: Openers Murder By Death delivered an engaging, passionate set of dark Americana influenced rock songs, as well as a cover of Golden Earring's "Radar Love." While most of the slowly growing crowd was only interested in getting in some drinks before the Hold Steady, the Indiana quintet surely won over the portion of the audience who were actually listening.


Multitude Of Causalities

Stuck Between Stations

Hurricane J

Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night

The Swish

Rock Problems


The Sweet Part Of The City

New Song

You Can Make Him Like You

Constructive Summer

Hot Soft Light

Wait Awhile (New Song)

Chips Ahoy

New Song

Sequestered In Memphis

Southtown Girls

Your Little Hoodrat Friend

Massive Nights

Slapped Actress

Positive Jam (Encore)

Stay Positive (Encore)

Killer Parties Almost Killed Me (Encore)

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