October 2nd is always a bummer day for Red Sox fans (damn your bones, Bucky Dent!) but fortunately we have memories of last night's Hold Steady show to get us through. Anybody who thinks there's an awesomer live band on the planet right now is probably the same kind of person who thinks Johan Santana isn't the American League MVP.
The Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis bar-band celebrated their brand new masterpiece, Boys and Girls in America, which gets released tomorrow. It's a concept album about how .38 Special were secretly The Clash, and accordingly, the unofficial release party was part boozy rock show, part family reunion, part Twins victory bash. Frontman Craig Finn, an honors grad of Professor Rod Stewart's "My Body Stunk But I Kept My Funk" School of Lyrics, sang his tall tales of low life on the road, searching for the things that keep a young man alive. It was a truly massive night.
The Hold Steady began with the question of the day ("How about those Twins?") and the one-two punch of "Stuck Between Stations" and "The Swish." All night, the crowd sang Finn's lyrics louder than he could -- his voice was in shreds before the first song was done -- but like Luis Tiant in Game Four of the 1975 World Series, he toughed it out and got the win. Tad Kubler played guitar hero, even busting out a completely ridiculous double-neck Gibson for "My Little Hoodrat Friend." "What do you think of Tad's double-neck guitar?" Finn asked the crowd. "Next time we play here, he will have purchased Alastair Crowley's castle." The band tore up new favorites like "Chips Ahoy!" (best horse-racing song since The Pogues' "Bottle of Smoke") and "Massive Nights" (best prom song since The Hooters' "And We Danced").
The guitar roadie kept running out to feed bassist Galen Polivka emergency shots of Jack. Finn sang about dashed dreams and empty pockets, and we could totally relate, especially after we paid the Irving Plaza bartenders four bucks for three ounces of Coca-Cola. During the slow songs, their fans held up lighters, not cell phones. How old-school are they?
Over the past couple years, the Hold Steady have written more great songs than anybody else around -- more than they can fit into a set anymore. Bizarrely, they didn't play "Chillout Tent," the best song by a mile on the new album. But Boys and Girls is an experimental record for the Hold Steady--more melodies, more choruses, more keyboards, a lot less guitar, much lower words-per-minute ratio -- so it was great to hear the new material get roughed up live; even songs that don't work on record, like the flat Poco tribute "Southtown Girls," sounded halfway like rock & roll last night. The band saved the old crowd-pleasers for the encore, with a fantastic mini-set of "Positive Jam," "Banging Camp," "Most People Are DJs," and "Killer Parties," the anthem from their 2004 debut album Almost Killed Me (an early-running contender for album-of-the-decade honors around here). When Finn attempted a big dramatic pause at the end of "Killer Parties," the crowd thwarted him by singing the finale without him -- a very Hold Steady moment.