The Hold Steady 8:30 p.m. | Blue Stage
The Hold Steady started out as a band of dudes who were too old for this scene shit. So they told some stories and stretched some truths and painted in wailing guitar solos and satisfying beat kōans about the blaze of youth.
These have always been delivered with an empathy that borders on embodiment. For the duration of a Hold Steady show, everyone in the building (or the field, in this case) is a prom queen on a bender, a burnout on the road, a Christian trying out some new things. We all sing woah-ohh choruses, and giddy front man Craig Finn's demeanor blows straight backward past youth to infantile. He crashes around the stage, arms akimbo and outstretched like wings, grinning wide, excitedly hurling spit into the crowd on a few key lines. How he musters this much joy for songs he's sung endlessly for years seems almost suspicious, until you remember he's been summoning bygones since day one. There's no risk of him losing touch with his material because it was always documentation rather than diary entries.
Still, it is high on the list of Hold Steady lessons that nothing lasts. Finn hasn't always confined his stage banter almost exclusively to song titles ("This has been a massive night" begets "Massive Night," and "I've told a lot of lies tonight, but this is a truth: You can make him like you" before the band plays, umm, "You Can Make Him Like You"). It seems like the sort of thing he would do if the songs were starting to feel a little stale, like he might not have much to say about them any more. And I know we need to stop bemoaning the loss of keyboard weirdo Franz Nicolay, but the fact that they went with another guitar in his place is definitely a bummer live, especially for fans who love Boys and Girls in America best. (Here!)
Also prominent among the Hold Steady's lessons is that you don't get bogged down in what might happen. If you want to make out with the other overdose patient in the medical tent, just go for it. There's nothing to worry about tonight. Not what happens five minutes from now and certainly not what happens with the Hold Steady in the coming years. Tonight, we are standing in Forest Park and this band still lights people up like Roman candles. You don't have to sing to sing along with Finn. You just have to shout the lines that make sense to you, even if those lines are just the woah-ohhhs.
The set list couldn't have been much better: heavy on the highlights, from Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls with the singles off Stay Positive (seemingly built for this occasion) in key places. There's not a drop of self-indulgence here -- it is a rare band that will give its all to the old favorites at the expense of spending time on the new stuff that is surely more exciting to play. Maybe to keep himself amused or maybe to offer further satisfaction to the fans that might catch this sort of thing, Finn switched out a few lines on the set closer "Massive Nights." "We kissed in your car and we drank from your purse" became "We kissed in your car and we fucked in your church."
There was another, right at the end. The band emptied the tank and stalled away, leaving Finn alone, looking like he might just float off the stage on a cloud of the goodwill emanating from the audience. The chaperone, he shouted with what little was left of his voice, had come to make an announcement: God save the scene.
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