The Hold Steady: Live at The Forum, Kentish Town
If you know a Hold Steady fan (which you surely do), the chances are they won’t just “quite like” The Hold Steady, they’ll be completely head-over-heels for them. I’ve always found their marriage of huge, crunching riffs and creative storytelling more than merely diverting, but it’s never really clicked. Whilst there are more than enough Hold Steady evangelists in this world, I’m something of a Hold Steady agnostic.
Standing in the Kentish Town Forum with the regulation pint of over-priced lager, I had two reservations about the impending show. Firstly, The Hold Steady is unpretentious, straight-up rock, so will they be able to maintain momentum for ninety minutes? Secondly, what elevates The Hold Steady above countless other guitar-heavy combos is the intricate narratives weaved by band leader Craig Finn. When confronted with a tri-guitar attack, will these nuances be lost in an enveloping wall of sound?
As the band sauntered on, it was immediately obvious they were nothing less than delighted to be playing music for a living. The trademark riffs rang out, the drums kicked in and Craig Finn flailed around, looking like an overly-friendly chemistry teacher who’d won a competition to front his favourite band for the night. Within around a minute, I noticed I had a big, stupid grin plastered over my fizzog, as had the guy next to me, and the guy next to him, and, come to think of it, the entire band. I’d been seduced so quickly I felt cheap.
That slightly manic smile stayed with me throughout. Finn is a mesmerising, if unlikely front-man who had the crowd eating out of his hand for the entire show. Yes, many of his words were drowned out by his band but he did his utmost to ensure we knew what he was singing about, with wild gesticulations and actions after every line. At times it was as if he were engaged in an impromptu game of one-man charades, as he charged up and down the stage like a guy who just couldn’t believe his luck.
The Hold Steady was having a party and we were all invited. Their relationship with the audience mixed with the communal football-chant nature of many of their songs to create the world’s happiest mob. Their overriding message is “Stay Positive” and as a sweaty and delighted crowd trooped out into a balmy, midsummer night - it really was a case of job done. They weren’t entirely preaching to the converted, but they’d certainly taught me the ways of The Hold Steady.
Hi, by the way, my name’s Joe. Did I mention I’m a really big Hold Steady fan?