Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Hold Steady--9:30 Club, Washington, DC

There was a time when the bleachers at Wrigley Field were the best place in the world to watch a baseball game. Tickets were less than $10 and were issued on a first-come-first-serve-basis. You’d show up with friends, watch some baseball, take in a few beers and some sun, and be surrounded by scores of baseball fans doing the same. Not anymore, though. It’s over. It’s been over for a long time. Go sit in the bleachers today and you’ll pay more than $40. Baseball fans? Nah. They’ve been replaced with drunks, idiots, assholes, bachelorette parties, fratheads, meatheads, redheads, investment bankers, Nazis, strippers, derelicts, and these guys. And they all show up with same intentions: get as drunk as possible, be as obnoxious as possible, get in a fight, try and ruin everyone else’s time, and maybe, just maybe, if there’s time, watch some of that mysterious game that the ticket stub says is called baseball. Simply put, the Wrigley Field bleachers have become a caricature of what they once were.

I only bring this up because there was a (very small) segment of fans at the Hold Steady show this past Thursday at the 9:30 Club that reminded me of the bleacher evolution. They were in the very front and center and they were horrible. I’m not sure if they were there to listen to music, or if they were just there to party and throw their weight around. They know who they are, but I’m thinking mostly of the moron in the green Celtics hat, the imbecile in the Pittsburgh Pirates hat and his numbskull friend, and last, and certainly least, the walking poster child for Roe v. Wade that jumped on the stage (twice) during “Stuck Between Stations.” The first time he did it, he got a bit of a grin out of Tad Kubler after he jumped back into the crowd. The second time, not so much. He ran onstage, tried to hug Craig Finn, was brushed off, tried to grab the mic, and then jumped back into his cesspool of friends. Craig flipped him off. I don’t know Craig Finn, but he seems like the type of guy that would have to be really pissed to flip a guy off in the middle of a song. And where the hell were you, 9:30 Club security? You are the same guys that stare at my ID for 15 minutes while I’m trying to get in the door, but yet will let a bunch of hooligans run amok on stage? You serious?

My point is this...when you go to a baseball game, have fun, cheer, heckle but never once think you’re part of the action. No one paid to see you. Same goes for a rock show. I’ve always had the best times at Hold Steady shows, and the crowd is always great. But I don’t want to see the party atmosphere morph into something undesirable and inauthentic, and that’s what I felt like was happening. Having a ticket doesn’t gives you permission to break down that fourth wall between you and band, outside of maybe participating in a sing-along; a concept the Hold Steady have always been more than gracious to embrace. But other than that, when at a Hold Steady show, only two things are required of you: stay positive, and stay the fuck off the stage.

That’s all I am going to say about that. I might be overreacting; it really was just a tiny segment of the crowd, but someone needed to say something. The rest of the night was just like you would envision of any Hold Steady show: fun, loud, and memorable. Opening was punk band the Loved Ones from Philadelphia. Other than name recognition, I didn’t know anything about them, but damn, they’re good. They have this style (especially frontman Dave Hause) that reminded me of NOFX. So it came as little surprise when I came home and learned they were signed to Fat Mike’s record label. This was the last show of the Stay Positive tour, and to celebrate Kubler and Franz Nicolay came out on stage and participated on Loved Ones’ last song “Louisiana.” Check out the Loved Ones when you get the chance, you’ll have to trust me on this one. I’m happy for Philly. Their sports teams suck, but at least they have a good band they can hang their hat on.

(Between bands, Brian texted me from Denver with the following message: “When in Denver, have a slice at Pizzareia [sic] Mundo on 17th. Fresh mozz, homemade sauce. Delish.” Thing is, Brian is a vegetarian so I take this recommendation with a little suspicion. I know this website is widely read in Denver, can anyone out there vouch for this place?)

What makes the Hold Steady such a great band is how well they bring people together. The atmosphere at their shows has always been very communal. Just as they did four weeks ago, they opened things up with “Constructive Summer”, the hard rockin’ and hard drinkin’ first track from Stay Postive. The tone was pretty much set for the evening.

This probably wasn’t the best sounding Hold Steady show I have seen. The band didn’t seem all that together on “Massive Nights” and Craig was periodically having feedback problems with his mic throughout the show. Nonetheless, that’s when the band's strengths are most obvious. A few minor glitches here and there won’t prevent them from connecting with 99% of the crowd. It’s rather amazing how repetitious their (especially Craig’s) antics are from show to show, yet they still have this way of making everyone feel like they’re seeing something special for the first time. The thing is, there probably was a decent contingency of people that were experiencing this for the first time. They weren’t let down. And that’s important. You can say a lot of things about the Hold Steady in concert, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to say they’re mailing it in. Here's a pretty good collection of pictures from the show.

I’ve written about this band’s live shows quite a few times so I don’t feel the need to delve into too many specifics. As far as a setlist is concerned, they played everything I wanted to hear off the new album, most notably “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Lord, I’m Discouraged.” The first time I heard “Sequestered in Memphis” I was slightly underwhelmed. But that song just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? It’s not going away anytime soon. Hause from the Loved Ones returned the favor from earlier and sang along with the band on “Stay Positive.”

The most raucous part of the evening was when they played “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” For a second I thought the roof was going to blow off the 9:30 Club. People were jumping and dancing and singing and shouting. It was glorious.

Once nice surprise was seeing the band play some of their rarities along with the expected hits. This included “You Gotta Dance (with Who You Came to the Dance With)”, “Ask Her for Adderall”, “Girls Like Status” and one song I had never even heard before. I believe Craig remarked it was only the second time they had played it, and the first time they had ever played it correctly.

During the encore, after “Southtown Girls”, Craig did his usual spiel about how much joy they have being in a band and they laid into “Killer Parties. When I left and saw a quiet 9th Street laid out before me, I realized how loud the show had been. I didn’t wear earplugs (which was completely asinine), and my ears were ringing harder than perhaps ever before. If you go to a lot of shows, you should wear earplugs. End of discussion. I have a great-aunt who has nearly lost all of her hearing and I have it on pretty high authority that she hasn’t frequented that many rock clubs. I sometimes grimace wondering what’s going to happen to our generation. Although, perhaps next time I’m sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers and there’s a bridal party above me discussing whatever it is that they discuss, and there’s an idiot on my right telling his buddy as soon as he finishes his beer he’s going to go beat up the nine year old in the Cardinals hat, I won’t be able to hear any of it. And I don’t think that’s trivial.



David the redhead said...

"fratheads, meatheads, redheads, investment bankers, Nazis, strippers"

whats wrong with redheads?

Alex said...

Two things I could have mentioned...
1. Sorry for the week of no posts. We were messing around with a new template. And yes, I'm blaming a week of no posts on the simple act of changing a picture that took two minutes.

2. In retrospect, I'm wrong to question a vegetarian's pizza knowledge. A good pizza is all about the crust, cheese, and sauce. Everything else is secondary. Next time I'm in Denver I'm all over this place.

Bridgie said...

Yeah, what's wrong with redheads?

You and your great-aunt would've appreciated the hot pink Peltar Kid ear muffs one toddler at Fort Reno was wearing. Maybe she'll let you borrow them.

Brian said...

I knew you'd realize your error and realize that a pizza is judged by its foundations rather than its rafters.

Bill V said...

I saw Hold Steady about a year ago in Chicago at Metro (just up the street from Wrigley). I was surprised at the amount of frat-type drunks in the crowd and it certainly lessened my enjoyment of the show. Since when does this band attract that type of fan?

Alex said...

I was at one of those Chicago shows as well and noticed the same. Two additional points:

1. Sometimes I think some Hold Steady fans take Craig's lyrics too seriously, and think they are always autobiographical in nature and feel as though they have to be as loaded at the show as they presume he is.

2. I don't mind meatheads, frat kids, etc. being at Hold Steady shows. That's one of the cool things about that band, imo. They have an appeal that extends outside of the average indie music fan. In fact, just a month ago I was writing how they are always one big party and everyone is invited. They have a bigger tent than most indie bands and I think that's a good thing. I just have a problem when people act like complete a-holes--jump on the stage, try and become part of the show, etc.

lil' elF said...

What isn't wrong with redheads?
Or I should say, what is right about redheads?

Bridgie said...

Don't be a hater, Li'l Elf.

For starters, redheads are less likely to get bone diseases and it takes 20% more anesthesia to sedate us. Stir in a fiery disposition and you get some kick-A people like Venus Ramsey (the first redheaded Miss America who, at 82, shot out the tires of a would-be thief's getaway car).

Any other questions?

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