The Hold Steady have come roaring back, and a lot of that roar is courtesy of new guitar player Steve Selvidge, who replaced keyboard player Franz Nicolay, who left the band in early 2010. The band is a full fledged guitar army now, especially when lead singer Craig Finn straps his guitar on, which he does less often these days, explaining that at 42 years of age he feels a bit silly wearing it. For me, the more guitars the better, so I’m really enjoying this new lineup, and the interplay between Selvidge and guitarist Tad Kubler is often incendiary.
From their very beginnings the Hold Steady have inspired a passionate, almost rabid, fan base. For a certain generation, Finn’s lyrics address matters close to the heart. As the band has gotten a little older, the lyrics have reflected the passage of time, and that reflection is on clear display on the new Hold Steady album Teeth Dreams.
I was a bit surprised that the Hold Steady opted to play The Met for their stop in Rhode Island. It’s a terrific venue, but I thought they could easily fill up the larger Lupo’s in nearby Providence, which is owned by the same people. As it turned out, the Met was full, but not as packed as I’ve seen it in the past. In truth however it was early in the tour, the new album is, well, new, and the band has been on hiatus for a few years. Bigger venues lie ahead on the tour.
The size of the crowd however was more than made up for by their passion from the moment that the Hold Steady hit the stage. The band played fan favorites from each of their first five albums, going back to their debut, Almost Killed Me, for “The Swish.” There were songs from Separation Sunday (“Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” “Banging Camp”), my personal favorite Boys and Girls in America (“Chips Ahoy,” “Stuck Between Stations,” and “South Town Girls”), Stay Positive (“Constructive Summer,” “Sequestered in Memphis,” and the title track), and Heaven is Whenever (“The Sweet Part of the City,” “The Weekenders”).
Sometimes when a band plays new material the audience decides that it’s a good time to head to the bar for another beer, or to the rest room to get rid of the last one. That was not remotely the case at the Hold Steady show. It was clear that the fans not only like the new album, but they already knew all the words and were singing along at the top of their lungs to Teeth Dreams tunes like the set opening “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Spinners,” “The Ambassador,” and “The Only Thing.”
In short, it was everything you look for in a great rock and roll show; a powerful band driven to the heights by their passionate fans. Alright the two kids in front of the stage who stared into Craig Finn’s eyes all night and sang every word of every song were a little bit creepy, but other than that minor quibble it was a remarkably satisfying show.