Five thoughts: The Hold Steady (August 2, Vinyl)

Chase Stevens, Erik Kabik Photography
Chris Bitonti

1. The Hold Steady were performing at Hard Rock Hotel the same night as the Legends of Hip Hop tour featuring DMX, Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie, among others. Such a perfect opportunity for some crossover magic—squandered.

2. You never know what to expect from a Vegas turnout. I was surprised to find Vinyl only about a quarter full for the barroom heroes. I was worried that would affect the band’s notoriously high energy, but they came to dance and those of us in attendance were so rabidly excited, you would’ve thought the show was sold-out.

The Hold Steady @ Vinyl

3. The Hold Steady are touring in support of recently released album Teeth Dreams, and I’m happy to say the new songs hit hard live. The band has re-tooled, added members and come out of a hiatus firing on all cylinders and ready to make good after the disappointment that was Heaven is Whenever.

4. In a truly organically cool experience, during “Spinners”—already one of Teeth Dreams best jams—the venue’s stage lights went out, leaving the room pitch black and the band in the dark. Fans immediately pitched in by lighting the stage with their phones. The guys were grateful and the board operator fixed the lights after about 10 minutes, but they ended up going out again during the band’s encore.

5. If you really break it down, Craig Finn isn’t so much of a lead singer as he is a poet-showman. He delivers brilliant, relatable lyrics in almost spoken word and focuses more on entertaining than achieving vocal perfection. While the band sounds great and Teeth Dreams is some of their best work since Boys and Girls in America, I still miss the organ sound and instrumentation of Franz Nicolay, who left in 2010. The Hold Steady’s time in the sun as the group “people love to say they love” has passed, and while their cool factor may never be as high as it once was, at least they have a solid rock foundation and diehard fans to fall back on.

  • As the singer approaches 50, his vocals remain a high point, his mix of throaty growls and raspy screams sounding near-perfect.

  • He’s done acid in Las Vegas, which he calls “a bad life decision.”

  • "There’s no way we could cover everything we have. It would have to be a three-and-a-half-hour show."

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