The Hold Steady Celebrate 20th Anniversary at Music Hall of Williamsburg
January 30, 2023
The Hold Steady – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 28, 2023
The NYC-centric core of it has been much-described, but that gnarly infusion of vital new energy and creativity that found its way into rock music in the early 2000s seemed to reverberate everywhere. And of course it needed to make room for a force of nature like the Hold Steady, which stylishly but unpretentiously out-bar-band-ed every other newcomer to become the era’s standard bearer for a kind of straight-shooting, spill-it-out-not-spoon-it-out, late-night, killer-party, give-it-to-’em-every-night-of-the-week show that lives on the through line that connects Little Richard to Springsteen, J. Geils Band, the Replacements and every other flavor of go-for-it rock squad onward to the present.
Most bands that thrived in that 2000s era are shells of their former selves, if they’re even still really at it. Not the Hold Steady, whose music has gotten richer and more varied as they’ve continued to build an oeuvre over two decades. And since they in many ways felt like a New York City band even before they even were one, why on earth wouldn’t they celebrate a milestone anniversary — 20 years, almost to the day, of their first show, in the exact same spot, then known as Northsix — with a local bash, stuffed with sloppy revel, warm and swashbuckling in the waning days of January gloom? That frontman Craig Finn is an unusual showman in the same way that, say, Elvis Costello is an unusual showman makes him no less a true showman — Finn owns his stage, and on Saturday in Brooklyn, he was back to prowl it.
Music Hall of Williamsburg was an inspired choice, right down to the opener: The Hold Steady opened for a band of Steve Koester’s back in 2003, and another group of his, Two Dark Birds, handled opening duties on Saturday. The show also briefly looked ahead to The Price of Progress, the Hold Steady’s forthcoming ninth album. But it was much more of a look back, with the biggest chunk of a 100-minute main set turned over to the band’s 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me, 14(!) of whose songs got an airing, from bangers like “The Swish,” “Hostile, Mass.” and “Most People Are DJs” to gnarly curiosities like the stomping “Barfruit Blues,” a quirky “Knuckles” and an even quirkier “Sweet Payne,” half-sung, half-poet-slammed.
The place was packed and chooglin’. Sing-alongs were frequent. Other, oft-traveled Hold Steady staples like the fist-pumping “Stuck Between Stations,” “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” all turned up. Late in the show, songs tended to slam into one another, one after the other, as Finn and the rest of the no-rust sextet bunched and racked them up like shot glasses on a crowded bar, knocking them back with no break in the energy. An encore rolled through “Certain Songs,” “The Weekenders” and “Chips Ahoy” — still a hot one with its whooping chorus and jagged guitars — before landing, inevitably, on “Killer Parties.” It’s still what they do, right there in the title. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson
Photos courtesy of Toby Tenenbaum | @TobyTenenbaum