The Hold Steady
This one presents me with something of a dilemma.
As a reviewer, should I review the show as a whole, or should I focus simply on the performance of the bands and the headliner at that? Should I ignore elements that can change a gig from amazing to simply average, but are completely beyond the bands control? In the case of this particular gig, I think I’m going to have to look at things from both angles.
First, the bands.
As per usual (This time due to a fairly early start at the venue, late departure from Hull and York’s slightly odd one way system) I arrived just in time to hear the final chords of opening band The New York Fund ring out, and as such am unable to comment on them. Main support The Checks were up next and were, frankly atrocious, with their brand of Quo inspired dull rock and muppet dancing front man. They also did little to warm the crowd up, inspiring at best rather limp rounds of applause. But more of that later.
Nobody was here to see The Checks though. Tonight was all about The Hold Steady. They came on stage to rapturous applause, and proceeded to launch straight into “Stuck Between Stations”, the first track on their newest albums. The Hold Steady is that rarest of things amongst bands, enthusiastic and full of energy and tight, talented musicians. Musically there was nothing to fault them whatsoever, as they also avoided falling into the trap of simply playing the album exactly how it sounds on record. Front man Craig Finn was like a dog tethered to a post, locked to his microphone stand and guitar, and leaning forward into the crowd, pawing the air and gesticulating like some crazy beat poet. Keys man Franz Nicolay looking like a cross between Hercule Poirot and a salty old sea dog with his waxed moustache and dapper air was almost as entertaining to watch, sometimes abandoning his keyboard to take centre stage with his harmonica and providing backing vocals.
Particular highlights for me were a great rendition of upcoming single “Chips Ahoy” and also “Chillout Tent”, which actually surpassed the album version which is spoilt rather by annoying guest vocals. I would’ve liked to have heard “Citrus” live (Too many of these songs begin with C!) and some of the older songs were a little weak compared to the newer material. The Hold Steady seems to have really found their feet with this release. Craig Finn’s between song banter was ok enough, although it did feel a little forced at times, possibly due to the rather lacklustre audience.
My only real issue with the bands performance was that it was simply too long. They played for almost an hour and a half, which is an awful long time for any band, no matter how good. I’m of the firm opinion that there should be a setlist limit for shows of about 50 minutes or the length of the bands last album. But perhaps that’s my addled attention span talking. The band definitely lost some of their momentum towards the end of the middle section of the set, but they did pick up towards the end.
So, I said at the start of this review that there were factors affecting this show other than the band’s performance, and I’d like to elaborate on this a little now. Firstly, I’m not a big fan of Fibbers as a venue. The room is very long and narrow and the stage is very low (Due in turn to the low ceiling) which means that unless you’re stood right at the front it’s very difficult to see anything. There’s also a weird fence thing on the front of the stage that encourages people to stand at the front and lean on it, which exacerbates the problem. It’s kind of like Fibbers has pretensions as a venue above its size and capacity. On the plus side, the sound is always decent, pretty much wherever you stand in the room.
The second problem, which really did detract from the evening for me, was the audience. Obviously this is completely beyond the control of the band or the venue, but a drab audience can really ruin the atmosphere of the show. As far as I could tell, it was made up mainly of middle aged men who were far more used to stadium shows with numbered seating and hot dog sellers and such, and weren’t really sure how to behave at a much smaller show. This, coupled with the weird shape of Fibbers meant that hardly anyone (About 4 people at a sold out show) was dancing or moving, and as a result the crowd was rather subdued. Hell, even I wanted to dance at a couple of points, and I never dance! It’s a terribly ageist thing to say, but I think a younger audience would have injected a bit more life into the show, and maybe give the band something to really get worked up about. Although the performance was good, there was an underlying sense of something much more exciting waiting to burst out that never quite did. The quality of the heckling was also appalling. If you can’t come up with something better than "Yeah, the new album’s shitter" then seriously, don’t bother. A good heckle should be witty and funny and give the band the opportunity to come back with a cutting retort, linking them with the crowd that little bit more. Needless to say, that was far from being in evidence.
So, how to rate this show? The band was great, if a little overlong, but the gig as a whole was a bit lacklustre. I think the band deserved at least an 8, where as everything else was worth about a 5 or so, so I’ll average it out to a 7. Given the opportunity though, I’d like to see the band again in a different setting.