The Hold Steady - live in Vancouver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Hold Steady

live in Vancouver (2009)

live show

One band that I have been dying to see live for the past few years is the Hold Steady. The live videos I've watched on YouTube show that frontman Craig Finn is clearly a great performer, and the entire band always looked to be having a great time. Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate one thing -- the Vogue Theatre. Much like my experience at Social Distortion a couple of months ago, this show took place in a theatre with reserved seating. Cool for a hockey game, not so cool for seeing the Hold Steady. Luckily, I was able to rush to the front and enjoy the band close up, but a lack of room forced most to stay at their seats -- including many on the balcony.

But before the Hold Steady would step up, Still Life Still from Ontario played. They seemed to have a decent amount of fan support to see them, and actually put on a surprisingly solid live show. I couldn't really get into their music, which sounded like a more indie rock Jimmy Eat World with perpetually tired-sounding vocals, despite the energy showing on stage. The keyboard player, in particular, continued to bounce around the stage, often grabbing a set of drumsticks and bashing cymbals in time with the drummer.

Finally, the moment arrived: Craig Finn, Franz Nicolai and the rest of the Hold Steady took the stage, and in a fairly predictable move opened with "Positive Jam." And start it with a positive jam, they did. In all of the shows I've been to, I don't think I've seen a more entertaining frontman than Craig Finn. It's strange -- in photos, he just looks like a mild-mannered dude in his late thirties, but on stage he reminds me of kids who drank too much cola at a birthday party. His energy is contagious as he buzzes around the stage, making big arm gestures, shouting out lines away from the mic in between singing, and dancing like a fool. If any other frontman did this, it would probably seem forced, fake and irritating. When Finn does it,the performance never seems anything but genuine.

The rest of the band was great as well. Franz Nicolai was dressed as sharp as ever, and always has great facial expressions and seems sincerely passionate about their songs. Bass player Galen Polivka and drummer Bobby Drake both clearly love being on stage, and sounded fantastic. The odd one out was lead guitarist Tad Kubler; it's not that Tad didn't sound great -- he did -- it's just that he was laid-back and calm, everything Craig Finn wasn't.

The set list was filled with fan favourites that had people singing along, and though there were songs that I felt were sorely missed ("How a Resurrection Really Feels" and "Multitude of Casualties" being two notables), that's mostly just a testament to how deep this band's catalogue really is. The band also tossed in at least three new tracks, all of which sounded excellent -- their next album should maintain their streak of great records. When they finally finished the encore with "Killer Parties," they left the crowd desperately wanting more, something that doesn't happen too often when you play that long of a set.

If you consider yourself a fan but haven't seen the Hold Steady live yet, you absolutely have to see them the next time the opportunity arises.

Set list (in no particular order):

  • Positive Jam
  • Magazines
  • Banging Camp
  • New Song #1
  • New Song #2
  • New Song #3
  • Charlemagne In Sweatpants
  • Your Little Hoodrat Friend
  • Party Pit
  • Constructive Summer
  • Sequestered In Memphis
  • Navy Sheets
  • Yeah, Sapphire
  • Stay Positive
  • Massive Nights
  • Chips Ahoy
  • You Can Make Him Like You
  • Southtown Girls
  • Citrus
  • Stuck Between Stations
  • Girls Like Status
  • Slapped Actress
  • Killer Parties