Monday, 26 February 2007

The Hold Steady, Oxford Zodiac, 25 February

The UK music press has been quick to mythologise the connection that the Hold Steady's articulate blue-collar rock has made in an imagined American 'heartland'. But transposed to the UK (and, Craig Finn complains, deprived of offers of dope as a result), can their bittersweet communal schtick live up to expectations? The show begins well: the band bounds onstage and launches into 'Stuck Between Stations'. The sense of goofy joy is infectious: Finn paws at his beard and grins, while the band summons the spirit of Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy. The crowd's response is enthusiastic, the entertainment enhanced by the mustachio'd keyboardist's resemblance to rotund scouse comic Alexei Sayle.

As the set progresses, considerable amounts of beer are imbibed, the Hold Steady living up to their reputation as a good-time boozy bar band, much like Guided By Voices before them. The bassist rivals Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein for impressive rock smoking. For the drummer, bottle-opening duties come before time-keeping. Finn is lost in his indie reverie, spewing his stream-of-consciousness lyrics and bantering with the crowd, allowing songs to tail off rather than ending them emphatically. This is not without effect on the performance: having pushed the stronger tracks off 'Boys and Girls' to the front of the set, the mid-section sags (insert paunch joke here...). . Such boozy communion is not without its attractions, but the band are pre-supposing a connection with the crowd that they haven't quite established.

The band rallies for a finale of 'Southtown Girls', bringing onstage departing-support-band the Checks for a celebratory jam, redeeming the set's looser moments. No doubt the Hold Steady will be back with shorter, tighter sets for the festival season, making plenty of converts. Having done so, their sloppy but passionate headlining performances will be all the more popular. B+

More fun:

Buy 'Boys and Girls in America'

The Hold Steady - 'Chips Ahoy'

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