Upon entering Warsaw Friday evening, my companions and I were greeted with the familiar yet bewildering sound of repetitive, heavy hitting bass lines and head knocking verse. On stage stood a charismatic but hardly imposing figure dressed in baggy garb and a titled baseball cap, spitting hot fire to a group of mostly pallid yet accepting youth who were more than willing to toss their extremities in the air as if they had not a concern to speak of in the world. And as I observed the display a thought crossed my mind. It was the same thought I imagine ran through the heads of each and every concertgoer who happened to walk in at roughly the same time my cohorts and I did.
“Dude, are we at the right place?”
Surely we were as mere seconds after I inquired to my friend about our location, Mr. Craig Finn, lead barker of the Hold Steady joined the mystery, Minneapolis master of ceremony P.O.S on stage for a tune. Armed with a mic in one hand and a Bud bottle in the other, Finn provided raspy contrast to P.O.S.’s respectable but forgettable delivery. Dressed in a vintage cowboy shirt, jeans and an ear-to-ear smile, Finn was greeted with deafening applause from the BK faithful. It was a fitting welcome home for himself and the Hold Steady who were playing their first NYC show in almost six months. And once the crowd began to cheer for their hometown heroes and Vagrant record new jacks, they never stopped.
Craig, Tad, Bobby, Franz and Galen opened their set the only way they know how, by bringing the rock to the eager. “Banging Camp” got the crowd sweating and their blood pressure racing and from there the boys segued nicely into a brand new tune “Ships Ahoy,” which would be one of five new tracks The Hold Steady would unveil throughout the evening. While maintaining the feel of the Hold Steady’s older material, the newer tracks provided more swagger than stomp and could best be described as a little more “E Street Shuffle” and a little less “Live and Dangerous.” Slight microphone difficulties could not mar the positive atmosphere of the performance, which captured the essence of the basement punk show in the bigger than expected venue with legions of willing Steady Heads pumping their fists and shouting back Finn’s verse at him, trying to match his off kilter delivery, which is unpredictable but still plenty palpable live. The Hold Steady balanced out the hard hitters of the set list such as “The Swish,” “Stevie Nix,” and “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” with breathe-easy friendly tunes such as “Multitude of Casualties” and the unexpected but amazingly executed “How A Resurrection Really Feels.” Finn’s banter between songs was clever and brief ranging from his disdain of the Bronx Bombers to an anecdote about the etiquette of returning abandoned property at Soul Asylum shows. A fifteen-song set bled into a three-song encore that featured material exclusively from the Hold Steady’s debut album Almost Killed Me. And as the end of “Killer Parties” echoed throughout the club, Finn raised his arms out to the crowd and simply mouthed the words “thank you” over and over again. It was then we realized two things; we were pretty sure we partied and we were pretty sure The Hold Steady was happy to oblige us. After all, they always are.
*Photo by Matt Humphrey –Web Site