It was a cold, wet Monday in April. For the average person going about his or her routine, there was probably little to get excited about. But, even well before the scheduled 7:00 p.m. door time for their Monday night show at the 9:30 Club, The Hold Steady was building excitement for a performance that can only be described as transcendental.
The band payed homage to the venue, Instagram-ing this picture with the caption: “One of the greatest rock clubs in the world. I’ve yet to set foot in the Sistine Chapel, but I imagine it feels similar to this.”
The 9:30 Club has received its fair share of accolades, having been named Rolling Stone’s “Best Big Room in America,” but this has to be near the top in terms of endearment, coming from a band that has revitalized the spirit of rock n’ roll in America.
Opening for The Hold Steady was Michigan rock trio, Cheap Girls. They were exactly what you would picture a Hold Steady opener to look and sound like: a middle-aged grassroots rock group of guys wearing glasses and beer brand tee shirts with a lead singer complaining about the allergy season. Not messing around, the band played song after song with little to no interruption. Their energy was set by drummer Ben Graham, whose laid back demeanor yet intense focus reminds you of Nick Frost’s character in those Simon Pegg movies. Nobody expected much from Cheap Girls, but they delivered a solid energetic set and their goofy stage presence was entertaining in itself.
When The Hold Steady came on, the 9:30 club went from just being a concert venue to a sort of cathedral where fans gathered to sing along to the gospel of Craig Finn’s lyrics. Everyone in the sold out club moved toward the stage and immediately began to take part in what Hold Steady shows have become known for: shouting out your soul at the band who does the same right back at you.
Opening with one of their latest singles, “I Hope this Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” the band set the tone quickly, getting the crowd into the song with Steve Selvidge and Tad Kubler’s heavy guitar riffs. Finn came in waving his arms and jumping toward the mic, bringing the whole crowd into the song by shouting, “There was a side of this city I didn’t want you to see!” The song then immediately transitioned into the band’s most well known track, “Stuck Between Stations,” connecting the crowd at a new level of intensity.
The lyrics of The Hold Steady are so personal that, at shows, it’s not just the band performing. Every single fan screams at the top of their lungs the words that have been, to quote a lyric from the band, “scratched into their souls.” Craig Finn and the gang certainly embrace this. With every line and every fill, Finn seems to jerk his body around on stage with an ecstatic energy. He doesn’t hesitate to get up close and personal with the fans, leaning down right in their faces and sharing the mic during sing along choruses or refrains. And, for good measure, Finn adds a comedic touch to many of his lines, adding lyrics like “naughty naughty northside” and emphasizing the satire in going to Memphis “on business.”
The highlight of the main set came when the band played “The Weekenders.” Bassist Galen Polivka opened the song with a somewhat unexpected bass line to change the pace before Craig chimed in with sad but funny lyrics such as “the theme of this party is the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a train wreck.” After the main set, everyone knew an encore was coming. But, the magnitude of the encore that The Hold Steady delivered was simply incredible. It started with the slow, heartfelt fan favorite “Citrus.” And from there band stopped at nothing short of trying to bring the entire club crashing down, playing five of their most rocking sing-alongs including “Massive Nights” and “Stevie Nix.”
The show ending with Craig Finn loaning the mic to the front row to finish off the “whoa whoa” section of the classic sign off “Stay Positive.” Afterwards fans left the club with a sense of catharsis and many simply looked at one another and said, “Happy Hold Steady Monday.”