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A review of...
The Hold Steady live at The Riverside, Newcastle
Tonight Newcastle played host to an end of tour party for two of Brooklyn's rowdiest inhabitants. The So So Glos have acted as main support for most of these UK dates (also playing a handful of headline slots on their own). They're a charismatic bunch, not conforming to any particular scene but with a general punk attitude and raucous sound. Of their two guitarists, one wears a vest, and the other is in full winter clobber (I'm not sure if there was a gulf in climate on the moderately sized Riverside stage), their singer has a cheeky stage patter which gradually engages an initially unsure audience. First things first though, this band is LOUD, but they've got an ultra-melodic sound to go with it. Their song-writing seems so radio-friendly that you almost worry that they are going to push things too far and cross the forbidden Green Day line, but sensibly they don't, keeping things down to earth by being a bit ramshackle and occasionally out of tune or time, which is surely the whole point of Punk Rock. Singer and bassist Alex Levine has a lyrical dexterity which perfectly reflects his great love of hip-hop, and this shines through on tracks like "House of Glass" which has a slight Paul's Boutique element to it. Guitarist Ryan Levine takes the lead on one track, and he has a voice like pure gravel, like some sort of Lemmy Jr. Other highlights include "Wrecking Ball" (an early crowd pleaser), "Diss Town", and a finale of "We Got The Days" which has a NY Disco-punk groove, sparse and even avant garde at times, it shows the band have many feathers to their bow. By the end of their set, after 40 mins of gentle coaxing, Levine (A) and the rest of the band are conducting the crowd in a boozey sing-a-long.
You know when you go to a gig and you can guarantee a certain number of hipsters and general too-cool-for-school dudes? Not so true at a Hold Steady gig. I've never seen a band so disinterested in appearing cool and, in turn I've never seen a less "cool" audience. Fist pumping is rife. It's quite refreshing.
The Hold Steady have been away for a while, and in the interim they've decided to ditch the keyboards (previously supplied by Franz Nicolay) and add a permanent second guitarist (Steve Selvidge). Unfortunately for me, what starts off as a genuinely exciting guitar crunch eventually loses it's appeal, bleeding all the songs into one. The lack of keyboards removes any trace of subtlety the band once had and what remains is a fug of no-thrills Classic Rock. This sound obviously has its appeal and the audience don't seem to mind one jot as the band tear through 21 tracks, hardly pausing for breath. Every single song is rapturously received, and every single song is sung right back at the band. The guitarists (Tad Kubler and Selvidge) are technically superb and Craig Finn is a ridiculous stage presence, bounding around, looking like an accountant on a staff Christmas party, letting his hair down and enjoying every second of it. He's definitely "in good spirits". Recent songs like "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" and "Spinners" prove that the band still have the songwriting chops and they suit their new sound, but classics like "Sequestered In Memphis" and "Chips Ahoy" just get lost in the mix. Quiet moments fare better, "First Night" particularly is a welcome change of pace and style and at the end of the night, the fans leave happy (except for this killjoy who's just slightly ambivalent).