The Hold Steady’s spontaneous, heartfelt delivery falls on disinterested ears
The Hold Steady returned to Manchester for the second time this year to deliver a performance that managed to sound polished and professional, without losing any of the spontaneous and heartfelt delivery that fans know and love them for. Though their latest—and perhaps most critically lauded—album, Teeth Dreams, is only six months old, already the band have seemingly reverted to their extensive back catalogue to fill the set, with only a handful of selections from that record being aired in the setlist.
Opening in low-key fashion with ‘Positive Jam’ from the band’s debut Almost Killed Me, the show didn’t really take off until the arena-ready guitars of ‘Stuck Between Stations’ began, setting the pace for the rest of the night. Maybe it was because the show happened on a drizzly Sunday evening in Manchester, but the band’s infamously rabid audience remained uncomfortably quiet and still throughout; even fan favourites like ‘Chips Ahoy!’ and the usually rousing ‘The Weekenders’ failed to garner much fan participation. Despite the lack of reaction, vocalist Craig Finn was clearly enjoying himself, grinning constantly and flitting about onstage, breathlessly mumbling his lyrics in his trademark deadpan style; rarely has a man that looks so much like a cross between David Cross and Gerard from Peep Show turned out to be such an engaging frontman.
The Hold Steady’s sound has become harder and more muscular since the departure of keyboard player Franz Nicolay a few years back, and the recent addition of Steve Selvidge as an additional guitarist has taken their sound even further away from their original indie/E-Street Band hybrid. This new edge gave the more anthemic tracks like ‘Sequestered in Memphis’ and the sardonic ‘You Can Make Him Like You’ an almost punk rock feel, though at times the piano and organ were sorely missed as the dynamic range of the songs suffered. By the time the encore had come round and the support act The So So Glo’s had joined the band for a rowdy rendition of ‘American Music’, though, the raucous punk rock stylings of their new sound seemed at home, and the crowded stage of musicians finally managed to coax some fun out of an otherwise dead and unappreciative audience.