The Hold Steady at Turner Hall
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Chalk it up to Midwestern roots or just a love for beer-infused revelry, but The Hold Steady seems to have a special affinity for Milwaukee. Near the end of the band’s tour kickoff last night at Turner Hall, singer Craig Finn revealed that he had spent his recent 40th birthday at Landmark Lanes. “Stay positive, Milwaukee. You’re fucking awesome,” Finn gushed as the group finally left the stage. Considering the energy and goodwill of the assembled crowd, it was hard to believe the frontman was being anything but sincere.
Happily, Finn’s birthday announcement was one of the few times he spoke at length during the nearly two-hour show. Gone were the grating “We do this because we love you!” speeches and the eye-rolling, Church Of Rock ’N’ Roll sermons. Instead, the keyboard-less Hold Steady relied on a thick wall of guitars and a lean, polished set that left little breathing room for band and audience alike. Opening with a one-two punch of “Constructive Summer” and “Hot Soft Light,” Finn and company sounded remarkably fresh and revitalized. Songs like “Rock Problems” and “Magazines” bled effortlessly into each other, while fan favorites “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and “Sequestered In Memphis” threatened to buckle Turner’s wooden floors. Even questionable material—hello, Heaven Is Whenever’s “The Sweet Part Of The City”—was rendered sharp and joyous in a live setting.
The absence of former keyboardist Franz Nicolay could be acutely felt in a few songs, especially Boys And Girls In America’s “You Can Make Him Like You,” but it rarely distracted from the fun. Of course, Finn’s onstage histrionics were still present—he seems to spew as much lyrical vitriol off-mic as on—and continued to illustrate just what Ira Glass would look like if he started a bar band and channeled a preening Mick Jagger.
The sizable crowd was about as boisterous as could be expected for a Wednesday night; only one can of PBR was thrown onstage, and only one tank top-clad bro attempted to crowd surf. Still, it’s never wise to underestimate the number of drunken, good-time dudes who absolutely love The Hold Steady, and as the band finished things off with a typically gonzo performance of “Stay Positive,” it was clear the crowd had its fill of both music and $3 tallboys.
San Diego’s The Donkeys opened the show with a winning set that covered everything from shambling slacker-pop to soulful Americana to straight-up country-and-western barn burners. The band was almost comically affable and eager to please—when was the last time a group suggested its next song would be “really good for dancing”?—but its puppy dog-like enthusiasm easily won over the crowd.