The bus was late and I was starting to get pissed. First, let me explain. I was on my way to Cambridge, MA to see the Hold Steady, the band many credit with currently saving rock and roll, on the last night of their U.S. tour. I had about 30 minutes before they took the stage. I had bought my tickets weeks in advance and had been anxiously awaiting this night, yet here I was standing on a street corner, attempting to ignore the cold and the wind.
I first became a fan of the Hold Steady this past summer when I fell in love with their fantastic second album, Separation Sunday. To say that Craig Finn only writes about drugs, parties, and alcohol does an extreme disservice to the simple, yet unusually complicated narratives of his characters to which we can all relate. The combination of Finn's lyrics, with the band's classic rock backing, make the Hold Steady better than any of the current "modern rock" bands who are around today. In the distance, I saw the yellow lights of the "1 Via Mass Ave" sign and I knew my savior had arrived. After a seemingly never-ending wait, the bus pulled up and shuttled me to the venue, The Middle East.
I walked downstairs as Sean Na Na finished their set. I don't remember much from it, except that the lead singer sounded like a more upbeat John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats). They finished their last song and I made my way to the front of the venue. The first thing I noticed was that pretty much everyone around me was extremely drunk. Not just, "Oh man, I think I feel a good buzz" -- I'm talking full on wasted. After suffering through the seemingly exaggerated drunkenness of the people next to me for 20 minutes, the Hold Steady finally took the stage.
Lead singer Craig Finn stumbled out along with the rest of his bandmates. It was easy to see that the band had engaged in some heavy drinking before the show, and the audience wouldn't have it any other way. The group ripped into "Stuck Between Stations," off their new album Boys and Girls in America and the audience let loose by singing along, fist-pumping and shoving each other around. Despite some technical problems throughout the set, along with extreme intoxication, nothing could stop the group from putting on an absolutely incredible show. They played the single "Chips Ahoy!," off the new album, which had the crowd chanting along to the "Wa-oh!"s in the chorus while the band blazed through the song and then transitioned into "Cattle and the Creeping Things," off their second album. Despite the extremely altered state of the audience, everyone was singing along and dancing, which only added to the party-like atmosphere of the show. The band continually did celebratory shots on stage, while dousing the audience in any remaining alcohol they had. The set consisted of new and old songs, which left the audience singing along to tracks like "You Can Make Him Like You," "Stevie Nix," and "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" among many others. After a raucous hour and 15 minutes (give or take), they ended with "Southtown Girls" and walked off stage as the lights dimmed.
The audience chanted for them to come back, and the lead singer of Sean Na Na came out and posed as a Craig Finn impersonator, while the band tuned and got back into gear. One would figure that the group's set at this point would be a total sloppy mess, yet they still maintained their tight musicianship that is evident on their albums, and was present all night. When the band started their third song of the encore, and their final for the night, keyboardist Franz Nicolay began pulling people on stage. I made my way up and was surrounded by around 30 or 40 people going completely wild, while the band played "Killer Parties." People were dancing and shouting along on stage as the band finished off their set, making it feel like more like a basement show or house party than a sold out night at The Middle East Downstairs. I have honestly never experienced anything like it and it only added to the fact that the Hold Steady are one of, if not the best, bands right now. Drummer Bobby Drake even started tossing out his numerous drumsticks to the stage dwellers as the song began to die down. Eventually, the Hold Steady stumbled off stage just as they had come on. The audience filed out, doused in sweat and alcohol, looking amazed at what they had just seen. I made my way to the bus, a pair of drum sticks and set list in hand, still riding on the euphoric high I had just received. I knew that I had just witnessed the ultimate rock and roll revival; the kind that makes you want to start a band and live the life of a rocker. The show only further affirmed my love of music and why I would want be stuck with a bunch of drunk, sweaty people on a Monday night, singing along with a guy who could barely stand. It truly was a "Massive Night," and not only was it one of the best live shows I have ever seen, but an experience I will never forget.
Set list (they played a different second song due to technical difficulties, but I don't remember which it was, they played the rest in order, however):
- Stuck Between Stations
- The Swish
- Chips Ahoy!
- Cattle and the Creeping Things
- Party Pit
- Massive Nights
- Girls Like Status
- You Can Make Him Like You
- Don't Let Me Explode
- Stevie Nix
- Hot Soft Light
- Your Little Hoodrat Friend
- Southtown Girls
- First Night
- Same Kooks
- Killer Parties
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