Gig Review: The Hold Steady, Club Academy, February 13, 2007

Hold Steady Ticket Numbers 1 & 2, Manchester 2007The Ledge would have been very impressed with himself last night. After pointing out how outrageous See Tickets markups on Hold Steady tickets were and alerting the promoter to the problem he managed to score us ticket numbers one and two. Shame he got sent away on business and Bricking Chick ended up with his ticket, because he’d have really enjoyed the gig. Turning up about an hour late to yet another impromptu Manchester Bloggers convention to find James YerMam! and Jon the Beef already well on their way to inebriation, we opted for a few drinks in the Student Union over the opening bands.

On making our way downstairs we were pleasantly shocked to find the gig had sold out and the place seemed rammed full of an audience that made me feel young enough to pass for being a student again. Nonetheless we still managed to walk straight up to the stage and plant ourselves in front of the keyboard player, which was an extra bonus for me as I had expected to see nothing at all in the basement venue with the low stage and the poor sound system. Apart from the poor sound system which often made it hard to tell what song they were actally playing, the gig was astounding, a fitting first show in Manchester from a band who have made a massive impression on me since I first picked up The Ledge’s copy of Boys & Girls in America back in early December and to whom I have been listening endlessly for the last couple of weeks as I’ve discovered Separation Sunday and The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me are just as great, oozing the ghost of early Bruce Springsteen with the lyrical stories about being young and stuck in a dead end, small town with nothing to do and no prospects.

The Hold Steady live in ManchesterThe band looked nothing like I expected when they emerged, surprised at the packed venue and screaming crowd. The bassist was shouting “How do you know you’re going to like us? Why are you cheering like that? We might be shit!” Bricking Chick gave the most appropriate description, telling me later that she reckoned that singer Craig Finn was “like a 7-year-old ADHD sufferer in the body of a 40-year-old man. The bassist looks like Stewart Copeland, poor guy, and the keyboard player thinks he’s Inspector Clousseau!” Delightfully quirky appearance aside, The Hold Steady are the real deal. I’ve rarely seen a band just relish being on stage as much as they did and I really wish the sound had been better because that may be the only thing that keeps it from making the list of all-time memorable performances.

The Hold Steady Live, keyboardsOf the songs I could distinguish (or they introduced), the opener, “Stuck Between Stations” took me half the song to identify but the energy set the tone for the entire gig with every member of the band producing proper rock moves, jumping about, pumping arms into the air, hamming it up for the crowd in what I can only compare to a Guided By Voices-style performance – they look too old and too average to be moving around like that but the genuine nature of the performance made it work perfectly. “The Swish” appeared early on in the set and was riveting. “You Can Make Him Like You” had me singing and dancing along with glee. “Massive Nights” was in there, as was one I’d been praying to hear, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” “Party Pit” provoked massive screams from everyone except James who groaned a lot and complained about it before performing what he referred to as “mental cartwheels” at the inclusion of “Chips Ahoy” on which I could almost make out the vocals. They completed the main part of the set with “Southtown Girls” which James complained about again before hurling his fist in the air and joining Jon and I in screaming the chorus along with the rest of the crowd. The encore brought us “Some Kooks” which sounded growly and louder than on the record and the delight in the faces of the crowd and the faces of the band was magnetic, as Craig Finn came down to us, shaking hands and reveling in his enjoyment of performing and of the music.

I’m taking The Ledge to see them on Wednesday in Sheffield. I can’t wait to see them again in a venue with a good sound system. They should be massive.

The Hold Steady – Your Little Hoodrat Friend

The Hold Steady – Southtown Girls

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