“Our psalms are sing-a-long songs…” – The Hold Steady
The members of The Hold Steady wear their influences on their sleeves. They love The Replacements and Springsteen; name check Meatloaf, Billy Joel and Robbie Robertson; and un-ironically reference “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “Been Caught Stealing” in the same lyric. They worship at the church of St. Joe Strummer. So, like their muses, of course their shows consist of shout-along rockers and hook laden anthems played with unmatched enthusiasm. As a result, there are few places more exhilarating than a Hold Steady show…and that goes double when they play a small venue like U Street Music Hall.
For the uninitiated, U Street Music Hall is a former pool hall that was converted to a music venue in 2010 and typically plays host to DJ sets, dance parties, and smaller touring acts. In fact the club is owned and operated by DJs who ensure that the acoustics of their intimate performance space are second to none. Suffice to say, it’s the smallest venue The Hold Steady have played in the DC-area in years and they took full advantage of the opportunity.
Recognizing where they were, Craig Finn and company dialed their amps to the max and channeled their classic rock loving bar band roots into a set that covered the band’s catalog from Almost Killed Me to Heaven is Whenever with a few tracks from their forthcoming LP thrown in for good measure. The band kicked off its set with one of these new tracks (“Records and Tapes”) which was quintessentially Hold Steady in both title and content (never a bad thing). But most of the show consisted of Finn ecstatically belting out fan favorites like “Stuck Between Stations,” “Little Hoodrat Friend,” “Chips Ahoy,” and “Constructive Summer” along with a pumped up audience that knew every lyric. The encore was particularly well constructed, as the band blasted through “Multitude of Casualties” and “Stay Positive” before closing the proceedings, appropriately enough, with “How a Resurrection Really Feels.”
While the absence of departed keyboard player Franz Nicolay was notable on a few tracks (particularly “Stuck Between Stations” where his singular riff was replaced by…silence), the band has clearly moved on, changing their sound to compensate for his absence. And these changes have been effective. When they started the Hold Steady were a skilled bar band with a witty lyricist and a love for the classics. Eight years later, it is their songs that have been scratched into the souls of a generation of music lovers. And here’s hoping they don’t stop any time soon.