The Hold Steady at First Avenue, 12/29/10


The Hold Steady December 29, 2010 First Avenue

It's been a busy ride for the Hold Steady. In eight years they've released five records, gained an international following, and toured constantly -- not bad for a couple of Minnesota transplants who relocated to New York. After playing two local shows over the Fourth of July weekend, the band returned to a sold-out First Avenue to close out 2010.


But before the Hold Steady could take the stage, Retribution Gospel Choir and the Meat Puppets set the tone while the crowd gathered. Later, Hold Steady vocalist Craig Finn reflected on his youth: "In 1986," he said, "I came to First Avenue to see the Meat Puppets. It's an honor to share the stage with them." While the crowd was polite and receptive, it was clear that most people were waiting for the headliners to take the stage.

By the time the Hold Steady introduced themselves and ripped into "Banging Camp," I had to push my way just to grab a decent sightline. People were packed in tight and you could tell it was going to be one of those shows where you're touching people that you don't even know. Even if it was midweek, the crowd came to party, and the center of the floor was swarming with energy--drinks in hands, arms around neighbors, and fans singing in unison throughout the entire hour-and-a-half set. The floor was primarily younger folks, probably in the 18-25 range, but the outer tiers and the upstairs contained another unique aspect of the band's draw: the middle-aged. The band themselves are no rookies, but Finn and company proved onstage that youth is eternal, setting an example that was followed across the venue. He danced like a child with a wide grin throughout the entire set.

While the band took few breaks from the music, each time they did he addressed his "home" crowd and said thank you, taking a special moment to dedicate a song to his 13-week-old niece that he'd just met for the first time. For the most part, the band let the music speak for itself. With the Twin Cities-centric lyrics, there's really little detail that needs to be added. During "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," the band took an extended bridge between verses, pausing to explain into the mic that, "all over the world, nobody in the world really knows this but you," as he broke into the line, "But City Center used to be the center of the scene/ Now City Center's over/ No one really goes there," which led to a roar of approval.

It's still a bit different to see the band without the eccentric Franz Nicolay, but they've moved on with their new six-piece touring arrangement that's built around the arena rock sound. During multiple songs, the band stretched out the bridge, with jammy, back-and-forth collaboration between the guitarists, giving old songs a new, drawn-out feel. Overall, the band chose a steady diet of old and new, mixing them up and sticking mostly to up-tempo songs that the audience could sing along with. Watching the Hold Steady play at First Avenue and the energy they derive from the city is a positive reminder that, despite the 30-plus inches of snow outside, the Twin Cities is a great place to be.

Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets

Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets

Critic's Bias: I'm doubtful they'll ever top Separation Sunday. The Crowd: A mix of college and middle-aged. A surprising amount of Western wear. Overheard In the Crowd: "Thirty years of coming here, it's the first time I've seen that." After somebody slipped and fell in the middle of the Men's room after the Meat Puppets' set. For More Photos: See our full slideshow of all three bands by Stacy Schwartz.

Setlist: Banging Camp Chips Ahoy Rock Problems Our Whole Lives Barfruit Blues Your Little Hoodrat Friend Magazines Hurricane J Going on a Hike The Swish The Sweet Part of the City Constructive Summer Hot Soft Light You Gotta Dance Stuck Between Stations Sequestered in Memphis Stevie Nix Multitude of Casualties The Weekenders Southtown Girls ENCORE: You Can Make Him Like You Stay Positive How a Resurrection Really Feels