Living in Iowa isn't as bad as you'd think. We have blue skies, friendly people, a great education system, and some of the lowest gas prices in the country. And on top of that, Chicago is a mere six hours away! Having missed out on getting tickets to the sold out Alkaline Trio / Smoking Popes New Year's Eve show at The Metro, I saw that the Hold Steady was playing two nights in a row at the House of Blues, and for 30 dollars cheaper on New Year's Day. Six hours for one band may seem obscene...but come on, it's the Hold Steady!
So after a raucous New Year's Eve with little sleep, my girlfriend, my roommate and I piled into my Ford Escort station wagon (punx!!1) and made the six-hour trek to Chi-town. Unable to flaunt the great education we'd received, we wound up (A) being some of the only people dumb enough to try and park at the House of Blues (a 26 dollar valet service) and (B) forgetting our sweatshirts in the car, which was whisked away by the valet driver. However, as we were freezing our faces off waiting to get in, I got a chance to assess the diverse gathering of people the Hold Steady brought out standing in line. There were a fair share of Orgcore punkers in Lawrence Arms hoodies mixed in with the hip, metro-looking preppy crowd, the balding young professionals, beer-guzzling bar flies, and indie scenesters (you know, the kind who dance stupidly with their hands halfway in their pockets their heels turned out).
As the line began to move, we finally made it inside, escaping the frigid Chicago wind. However, the security lady frisking my girlfriend informed her that cameras were not allowed inside the House of Blues. So it was back to the freezing cold outside to put her camera in my car. "Yarr, we were so close to getting in," is all I could help thinking.
All debacles aside, the music finally began a little after 6:30 with local openers Sybris. I was hoping they would pronounce their name "Sea Breeze" like the prize-winning greyhound who Brian violated in my favorite episode of "Family Guy," but instead they just bored me. The female lead singer had a really good voice and brought in some great hooks, but the music was pretty much bland rock, and I guess maybe I just wasn't in the mood after the six hour back-killing drive.
The next band, Chin Up Chin Up had a great sound, a little like Mźlée with less poppy vocals. However, all their songs were at a similar speed and ended up lulling me to sleep, albeit a pleasant sleep.
By the time the Hold Steady appeared on stage, I was rested and ready to rock out. And so were they. I instantly recognized the familiar tickled piano notes coming through the opening measures as the band launched into "Stuck Between Stations" off their 2006 Vagrant debut Boys and Girls in America. Lead singer Craig Finn was all over the stage, spitting out his spoken-sung vocals and having the time of his life. Throughout the show, the music was always spot-on, though the vocals were often hard to hear and decipher, probably due to low levels or my position to the left of the stage. The band covered much of their best material off Boys and Girls, including "Chips Ahoy!," "You Can Make Him Like You," "Hot Soft Light," "Southtown Girls," and my personal favorite "Massive Nights." The crowd was even lucky enough to hear "Chillout Tent," which the band rarely plays live, complete with the male/female vocals. From Separation Sunday, they played fan favorite "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," "Hornets! Hornets!," "Cattle and Creeping Things," and "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night." The band even dipped into some older material playing "The Swish" and ending with "Killer Parties" after an encore in which the bassist tossed free cigarettes up to the balcony and into the crowd.
Overall, it was a solid performance and set list. I was a little disappointed they didn't play "Some Kooks" but with "Massive Nights" and "Chillout Tent" they more than made up for it. Leaving the House of Blues, a warm, cozy feeling came over me seeing all the different people filing out of the building, whistling the tunes they'd heard over the last hour and a half. That warm feeling left as I stood outside in the freezing cold, waiting for the 26 dollar valet service to bring me my car. But the first thing I did when I got in my car was to slide Boys and Girls in America into my CD player, and that feeling came right back.