Monday night at Cambridge, Mass.'s Middle East Rock Club Team Clicky Clicky witnessed the sold-out final date of a month-long Hold Steady/Sean Na Na tour. And it's a good thing it was the last night, because the proverbial wheels were falling off the band. Before the set even began band fronter and indie anti-hero du jour Craig Finn embarked on an irritated diaspora around the stage in search of a replacement battery to try to fix his ailing tuning pedal (someone eventually gave him a different pedal). And then not a minute into opening cut "Stuck Between Stations" the electronics in Galen Palivka's bass just gave out, resulting in several minutes of awkward searching for a replacement bass from suddenly missing openers Sean Na Na and The Big Sleep. During this pause guitarist Tad Kubler admitted that the tour had exacted a hard toll on the band, offering up his own sprained ankle as an example. Finn chimed in about how the band's "human parts" were as beaten down as its mechanical ones. The icing on the cake was when keyboardist Franz Nicolay's instrument gave out many songs later at the crucial breakdown in the transcendent rocker "Stevie Nix," which is perhaps the highest of the high points on the band's 2005 magnum opus Separation Sunday.
But somehow, lubricated by myriad screwtop Budweisers and volleys of liquor shots delivered to the stage via plastic cups by adoring supporters Sean Na Na, The Hold Steady got down to the business of performing an ecstatically sloppy, 90-minute live set. A set that joyfully collapsed under its own weight as the band closed out the night with "Killer Parties," during which the band pulled about a hundred audience members on to the stage in a re-enactment of the cover of the band's recently issued third set Boys And Girls In America.
It was interesting to note that, despite the minor fit Finn pitched about his tuning pedal, the dude doesn't play a lot of guitar. Instead, he more often than not let his hollow-body hang and serially seized the microphone and with each carnival-barked line of lyrics charged into the adoring embrace of the crowd. Curiously, between each line Finn pulled the mic away from his maw and screamed unheard, additional sentiments at the crowd. All night. Who knows what he was screaming. We wondered if he was repeating the next lyric to himself so he wouldn't forget it as he regrouped, turned and rushed the crowd again, and again, and again.
Did we mention that Monday night The Hold Steady were class A, Replacements-reminiscent, weapons-grade drunkards? While the fun and energy of the show were boundless, the execution of the material certainly suffered, to the chagrin of at least one fan. Finn's hands slid around the guitar neck during their surprisingly infrequent visits there, and the singer slurred, truncated or simply forgot words to a greater and greater degree with each successive shot or Bud. The Hold Steady were sweet drunks, though, and gushed about their great friends in Sean Na Na and present family. And about midway through The Hold Steady's set the Sean Na Na guys took up residence onstage, supplying back-up vocals for tunes including "Southtown Girls" and maybe "You Can Make Him Like You," drinking, wrestling, drinking and hugging. And of course drinking.
So what about the music? It is hard to separate the music from the high-energy, low-sobriety performance, but there were plenty of highlights, including a rousing "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" and a smoking take on "Cattle And Creeping Things." While the ebullient crowd sang along all evening, it was particularly vocal during spirited renditions of "Chips Ahoy" and "Massive Nights." And "First Night" and "Party Pit" were also quite memorable. Here's the full set list. Needless to say the band left no hit unplayed.
As we noted supra, The Hold Steady had a number of relatives in the audience, adding to the gravity of the tour-capping night. The parents of relatively new addition Nicolay, the fantastically mustachioed keyboard player from New Hampshire, were in the audience and were among the first brought on stage during the finale. And during which Franz shared a warm moment and hugs with them while the audience consumed the stage in rushing waves of sneakers and sweat as the band solemnly closed the show, and closed the book on the tour, with a stirring, poignant run through "Killer Parties." We'll get the rest of our pictures edited and uploaded to Flickr later in the week. Check out Jay Kumar's take on the show here, and grab some MP3s below.
The Hold Steady -- "Stuck Between Stations" -- Live On The Current
The Hold Steady -- "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" -- Separation Sunday
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