Nova Scotia's Wintersleep warmed the sold-out crowd up, using their organs and jammy guitar solos. Only knowing two songs, I can't say they were at the top of their game or anything, but they kept everyone's attention. Being from Canada, they have my vote, so click on the link and gave 'em a listen.
As the roadies swapped equipment around, I began to think about the last time I saw the Hold Steady - back in April. That show was out in Northampton, and the first without whom I had considered to be the band's 'secret weapon' - multi-instrumentalist and mustached Franz Nicolay. The band seemed like they were still trying to work things out, as new members Steve Selvidge (formerly of Lucero) and Dan Neustadt (formerly of the World/Inferno Friendship Society along with Nicolay) were still getting a grasp on the band's catalogue. Not to mention that the show was a month before their latest album, Heaven Is Whenever, hit record stores...or leaked on the internet. To me, there's nothing worse than hearing a band I love playing songs I don't know yet. These thoughts raced through my head, and as the guys took the stage with their signature plastered smiles, all of my doubts dissolved.
To put it simply, it seemed that Craig Finn and company have not only ironed all the kinks out, but have put to bed the idea that there ever were any kinks in the first place. It could have also had something to do with Minnesota being in the playoffs, as Finn said, "We all have our favorite teams, but tonight, we can all be Twins fans" and blasted into the no-holds-barred anthem "Constructive Summer." The crowds surged, bodies surfed, and fists shot up on cue as they powered through some their most raucous songs like "Massive Nights," "Hurricane J," and "Barfruit Blues." Tad Kubler showed off his slide-guitar skills on the new slow-burner "The Sweet Part of the City," but kicked things back up again with the B-sides (or 'treats' as I refer to them) "Ask Her For Adderall" and "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With)." Everyone was tight, there were no awkward pauses, and the usually long-winded Finn kept the banter to a minimum.
There are two main components that made this show so great to myself, the 'huge fan.' Number one: They didn't close with 'Killer Parties.' Up until this tour, the band had been closing nearly EVERY SINGLE SHOW with the excellent song from their 2004 debut ...Almost Killed Me. Instead, they opted for 'Slapped Actress,' an equally great closing anthem. This to me says that the band knows what their cliches are and can climb out of a rut without anyone in the crowd complaining about it. I would be willing to bet that most people at the show have seen them do that before or are just as fine with 'Slapped Actress,' as 2008's Stay Positive was a much bigger album for the band.
Number two: Craig Finn. Always happy, always animated, and always forces you to be a part of the show. He can always say the same things onstage, too, however. The first time I saw this band, in 2007 at this exact location (although known as The Roxy back then), he stated during one song that there was 'so much joy in what [they] do.' I almost cried, because I had never heard a musician being so frank. But then as I went on to see them a few more times and watch videos, I realized that Finn said this almost every show. Not this show, however. Instead of verbalizing it, everyone in the band made it perfectly clear that they love what they're doing and don't plan on slowing down. Perfect.
Constructive Summer/Massive Nights/Hurricane J/Sequestered In Memphis/Barfruit Blues/Rock Problems/You Can Make Him Like You/The Sweet Part of the City/Magazines/Stevie Nix/Ask Her For Adderall/You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With)/Chips Ahoy!/Stuck Between Stations/Lord, I'm Discouraged/The Weekenders/Southtown Girls/Your Little Hoodrat Friend/Stay Positive/A Slight Discomfort
Hornets! Hornets!/Banging Camp/Slapped Actress