The Hold Steady + Company of Thieves
(19 Nov 2010: Otto's Dekalb, IL)
Without a doubt, the Brooklyn-based Hold Steady are one of the most consistently rewarding live bands performing today. Leader Craig Finn and the rest of the group continue to thrill audiences with their literary take on heartland and classic rock. If their most recent record Heaven Is Whenever is a bit inconsistent following the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the group proved at Otto’s on November 19 in Dekalb, IL that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
The Hold Steady performed a strong selection of tunes from all five of their major studio releases. Alongside electrifying renditions of such perennial fan favorites as “Chips Ahoy”, “The Swish”, and “Stuck Between Stations”, the band pleasantly surprised the audience by playing some lesser-known B-sides as well. Standout songs from the show included “The Weekenders”, a stunningly sublime track from the group’s latest record, and “Stay Positive”, the eponymous tune from the band’s previous effort. The latter’s directly heartfelt lyrics sent the perfect message to a blissful crowd swimming in the sea of the band’s good vibes.
I must admit that I came to the show an admirer of Finn’s group, but not a full-blown fan. I now count myself among the Hold Steady faithful. My conversion is due largely to Finn’s incredible dynamism in front of the audience. Appearing in a polo shirt and glasses, he looked like he could be organizing his office’s golf outing instead of fronting an indie rock band. However, he approached his delivery of every single line as if there were nothing more important in the world at that moment. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious. The crowd was tuned completely into the Steady’s wavelength throughout. Finn consistently engaged the audience, inspiring them to clap, jump up and down, and shout out every dense, allusion-heavy lyric.
You know it’s a powerful show when the opening, lesser-known band equals the main act in energy and musical creativity. Company of Thieves is a Chicago-based indie group fronted by talented songwriter and vocalist Genevieve Schatz. The group melts together the strongest elements of classic rock, avant-garde experimentalism, and Chicago blues into one beautiful, musical mess. Schatz brought a sense of audience engagement and vigor similar to Finn from the Hold Steady, rendering the two bands unexpectedly compatible.
Schatz’s sultry voice and vibrant stage presence was reinforced by the superb musicianship of the band as a whole. Chris Faller’s active bass parts were particularly prominent. The group’s musical talent was enhanced by a batch of adventurous, yet infinitely accessible songs. “Oscar Wilde” and “Pressure”, both from 2009’s Ordinary Riches were especially memorable. The band also performed a few tracks from their unreleased new record. These tunes showed off the Chicago blues end of the band’s musical spectrum, highlighting virtuosic guitar solos against slow jams. The one-two punch of Company of Thieves and the Hold Steady made me remember why I love live music so much. A lyric from the current Hold Steady record includes the line “heaven is whenever / we can get together”. Both bands proved the truth of these lyrics, bringing a bit of paradise to a sleepy, Midwestern town.