The Hold Steady: 24 July 2009 - Sayreville, NJ

A Hold Steady performance requires the commitment of the audience -- pumping their fists at the right moments, or shouting out choruses that Craig Finn pretends to have forgotten.

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

City: Sayreville, NJ
Venue: Starland Ballroom
Date: 2009-07-24

The Hold Steady never play a mere show -- they play host to a congregation. Tonight’s show, in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey, has the feeling of a religious revival: There’s plenty of screaming, crying, and a lot of hands waving through the air. And Craig Finn, lead singer and songwriter for the band, is leading his flock with a combination of a pride and amazement. You could say that he’s a lucky man, but luck has very little to do with it.

If the Hold Steady is anything, it’s hard working. In the course of tonight’s show, Finn pulls shapes and makes face, dancing across the stage of the Starland Ballroom like a man possessed. The band behind him just smiles, because even if Finn is the main attraction, the Hold Steady is such a tightly knit musical presence that no member feels unnecessary. Not even Franz Nicolay.

Of course, they couldn’t do this all alone. Openers Titus Andronicus, with their manic pop and impressive facial hair (lead singer Liam Betson sprouts a beard that could put Band of Horses to shame), make for a strange sort of palate cleanser. But an overlong set and mumbling onstage comments didn’t do this band any favors. By just song number three, the anxious hipsters and bar-band lovers have stopped dancing, and started looking at their watches.

When the Hold Steady finally take the stage around 9:30 pm, they’ll remain there for over two hours. To paraphrase “Most People Are DJs”, some kids will end up bruised tonight, and some other kids will fall in love tonight -- maybe with Finn himself who, despite looking like a tax accountant on vacation, has one of rock’s most charismatic voices. His performance involves, even requires, the commitment of the audience -- pumping their fists at the right moments, or shouting out choruses that Finn pretends to have forgotten. And everyone knows the words.

This is a band in full control of their powers, confident enough to play a setlist that favors their early material, even if Stay Positive is the name on all the merchandise. When Finn and co., blast into an anthemic version of “Southtown Girls”, (a song that never got much attention to begin with) there’s practically a panic; when a heavy version of “Hornets!, Hornets!” starts playing, everyone sings along.

It’s a rare band where the lead single from the latest album (“Sequestered in Memphis”) gets a throwaway reception somewhere before the encore, but the old-school “Charlemagne in Sweatpants” gets a rapturous welcome. Where the opening number is “Most People Are DJs”, a punky opus from debut Almost Killed Me, and their four-song encore includes only one recent single. But the Hold Steady don’t exactly play by the rules. Their mashup of religious values and rock ‘n’ roll spirit could come off as inauthentic in less talented hands, but Craig Finn knows just how to walk that fine line. The classic “Stevie Nix”, with its jubilant cheer of “Lord, to be 33 forever,” finds Finn playing prophet to the assembled masses. But who can blame him? Beloved by the kids who’ve memorized his every lyric, it’s pretty easy for Finn to feel like a king right now.

Maybe that’s why the usually ubiquitous cameras and cell phones are nowhere to be seen tonight -- because this is a band that thrives on the live experience, on the communion between the fans and the group. To try and capture it for posterity just wouldn’t do it justice. This is rock at its purest, the kind of thing that brings together the skater punks, the hardcore kids, the dads and the dropouts, and everyone in between. You can put it on YouTube, download it, stream it, and look it up on Wikipedia -- but there are some things technology just can’t replace. As Craig Finn himself might say, it’s a minor miracle.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.