Gig Reviews, Dublin, The Academy

01

The Hold Steady (live in The Academy, Dublin)

Review Snapshot: Playing to audience of 30 something men, The Hold Steady deliver a set much appreciated by the many converted in the audeience. A band however lacking the urgency and depth to ever become a major force in rock music.

The Cluas Verdict? 6 out of 10

Full Review: The first thing that is noticeable upon entering The Academy tonight is the clientele. Without exaggeration, the crowd is made up of 90% men. The Hold Steady’s combination of classic and geek rock appealing, based on those in attendance tonight, more to the male 30 something demographic than any other, The band, who have forged a career by releasing consistently decent albums, struck up a genuine bond between band and audience from the off in The Academy.

Even so, front man Craig Finn looked somewhat out of place. Reminiscent of a young Elvis Costello, his on-stage dancing borders on embarrassing-uncle-at-a-60th territory whilst sipping his can of Diet Coke. But it is this carefree spirit that seems to endear Finn to the reasonably sizeable crowd in attendance. His voice is an acquired taste, mixing Springsteen-esqe moments with the occasional spoken word. Finn sings about his home town of Minnesota; obviously holding a strong connection with the place of his upbringing, and there is an unquestionable autobiographical theme running through many of the songs tonight.
 
The band play songs from all of their studio albums and early gig standouts include the melodic ‘Ask for her Adderall’ and ‘Hurricane J’. The band do not rely on their singles to power their live performance and after ‘Sequestered in Memphis’, follows the highlight of the gig: a trio of heavier tunes (Stevie Nix, Smidge, Southtown) with dual guitars reminiscent of Thin Lizzy in their prime. The wonderful mid-section break in ‘Southtown’ ends too fast and shows another, groovier, dynamic of the band.
 
By this stage, the vast majority of the crowd are won over. The band return for a strong encore consisting of  ‘Stay Positive’ and ‘Slapped Actress’ (both from 2008’s ‘Stay Positive’ album) and a birthday wish to a fan’s girlfriend who had contacted the band directly by email – a testimony to the Hold Steady’s lack of pretentiousness and rock star ego. 
 
The Hold Steady strike me as an ideal act to see on the main stage at a summer festival before the sun sets. For me, they are a little middle of the road’, lacking the urgency and depth to ever become a major force in rock music. This gig was one my parents would have enjoyed - rarely a healthy sign. 
 
The Hold Steady might not be the most contemporary, or vital for that matter, band to visit Ireland in 2011, but they deserve their place in the industry. In many respects they represent a welcome juxtaposition to some other self-aware and media conscious acts of present.

Colin White

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