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SLCR #141: The Hold Steady (September 23, 2009)

I’ve been putting off this review because I don’t have a whole lot to say. But I’ve got a full slate of upcoming concerts and I would like to spend the weekend without having an unwritten review gnawing at my conscience.

My fondness for The Hold Steady started nearly a decade ago, thanks to a dude named Griff. A band called Lifter Puller put out a CD called Fiestas and Fiascoes in 2000, and this was Griff’s favourite album of the year. Back then, this whole music downloading thing wasn’t quite what it would become, so he burnt a copy of the CD and mailed it to me. This all seems so very quaint now. Anyway, this album was all about Nightclub Dwight and his club, The Nice Nice, and though I didn’t love it as much as Griff did, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

A while later, I saw the album for sale in an American record store. I thought about buying myself a legitimate copy, but passed. All Lifter Puller albums are now out-of-print, but Fiestas can easily be found on eBay if you have a spare hundred bucks lying around. A bit of research shows me that there’s talk about putting out a Lifter Puller box set. I’d buy that.

Anyway, the band broke up – hence the albums going out of print – and while I listened to Fiestas on occasion, I kind of forgot about them. Then one day, many years later, I was pestering Feely for some new music and he sent me an MP3 by The Hold Steady. The voice of Craig Finn – of Lifter Puller fame – was unmistakable.

When the show was announced, Mika and I managed to coax Dave and Heather into joining us to once again brave the heat of the Odeon. We got there a half-hour before the doors were scheduled to open, and there was no lineup. None at all. For other shows, I’ve seen the line stretch down the block and around the corner. We wandered over to the mall, poked around, got drinks, came back with a few minutes to spare, and joined the six people that had shown up since we left.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The promoters sent out an email the week before the show. The Winnipeg show was sold out, while Edmonton and Calgary had less than 20 and 50 tickets remaining, respectively. The Saskatoon show just said "GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!"

So, not much demand for The Hold Steady in Saskatoon. This wasn’t the worst thing in the world, as it kept the temperature in the Odeon to a level I’d describe as "barely-tolerable," which is a new personal best for the Odeon. And for what it’s worth, though they never got full enough to open the balcony, it did fill out quite nicely by the time The Hold Steady took the stage.

I bought a shirt! It’s yellow and it says "The Hold Steady" which I suppose is appropriate. There is also a bear on it. Not sure why that is, but the guy working at Burger King assumed I was a hunter because 1) bear, and 2) if you’re hunting, you have to hold steady. Then he told me about a bar in Montana where you can buy a t-shirt that says "shoot straight or value your life." This was an awfully awkward conversation.

Our opening act was called Still Life Still and they were perfectly fine. Mika heard Constantines-meets-…someone else. I forget who she said. I heard Immaculate-Machine-meets-…someone else (a different someone else; we may as well assume it was the Constantines). I also thought that though they don’t want to be The Arcade Fire, they have played their albums to death. I didn’t buy their record; maybe I will listen to some of their songs on MySpace and see if the recordings are my thing.

Before the band took the stage, I was asked to describe The Hold Steady, and I said they sounded like they were inspired by Springsteen, and their songs tell stories, and Craig Finn has a distinctive voice and singing style (calling it "singing" is generous – he’s more of a talker). This is more adjectives than I usually use in one of these reviews that don’t really review anything; I was tempted to say "imagine if the guy from Lifter Puller quit to lead a really good bar band" but I figured that would just lead to more explaining. But y’know, it’s pretty accurate. Having never seen them before, Finn blew me away with the level of energy that he showed. For some reason, I wasn’t expecting that.

Though I can only mildly complain about the temperature of the Odeon, I can certainly complain about the sound quality. I don’t know if they hired the tone-deaf audio tech from Amigo’s, but music sounded fuzzy and the vocals were drained right out. For such well-written songs, it would be nice to have heard them. Maybe I’m just getting old (though I did get carded on my way into the Odeon), but this was not the first concert at the Odeon that sounded messy to me. In fact, all of the recent ones have. If it was one time, I could blame the band, but every time? Nope. Much like with Hot Hot Heat, I left wanting to see the band again, but somewhere else. Saskatoon is pretty limited in terms of appropriate venues, so I certainly can’t say that I’ll never come back to the Odeon, but I’d much prefer to go elsewhere.

So, not a minor complaint, but I’m not willing the blame the band for that. Their show was greatly entertaining and there were a few great moments where they played my favourites and the crowd sang along and all was right with the world. And I didn’t die of heatstroke. Could be a lot worse.

 – Oct. 13: Collective Soul
 – Oct. 23: Ben Folds (w/Kate Miller-Heidke)
 – Oct. 29: Def Leppard (w/Cheap Trick & Man Raze)
 – Nov. 14: Stone Temple Pilots
 – Dec. 15: Wayne Newton and I am not even kidding

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