Making their hotly anticipated return to Nippertown at The Linda after a frenzied, beer ‘n’ sweat-soaked sold-out show at Valentine’s Music Hall a year ago, newly revamped, Brooklyn-based, indie-rock torchbearers the Hold Steady charged into a new song “Rock Problems,” that boasted all the earmarks of the band’s classic sound.
A pummeling, churning rhythm section. Big, fat ready-for-the-arena powerchords that flooded the entire theater. A soaring, Allman Brothers Band-like twin-guitar duet. And Craig Finn’s always nimble, literate wordplay.
The Hold Steady have long been saddled with comparisons to early Springsteen, but this song – from their upcoming “Heaven Is Whenever” album, slated for release on May 4 – rang truer to the heart of Tom Petty’s glory-days anthems spiked with some Cheap Trick-like riffology.
But, ah, the band soon found itself facing even bigger “Rock Problems.”
They launched into the powerhouse “Sequestered in Memphis,” and thanks to repeated airplay on WEXT-FM, the whole crowd joined in, singing along with enthusiasm and abandon. The song was steamrolling toward its big-rock-show finale when suddenly – the power went out.
Sans juice, Finn and his bandmates fumbled around for just a moment wondering what to do. Then Finn stepped away from his now-non-functioning microphone and began singing “Citrus” like he was leading some kind of lo-fi hootenanny. Guitarists Tad Kubler and new guy Steve Selvidge chimed in on acoustic guitars.
They eased their way into “Cheyenne Sunset,” and new keyboardist Dan Neustadt added some sweet, accordion-like accompaniment on his melodica. It was like an end-of-the-day, gather-’round-the-campfire session for cool kids. Electricity? Who needs electricity?
Power was restored quickly, and the Hold Steady jumped back into their setlist with “The Swish.” The rest of the show featured plenty of old favorites. “Stay Positive” seemed to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, but the epic “Stuck Between Stations” was the highlight of the night, even stirring up a lone crowd-surfer at one point.
Finn and Friends fearlessly previewed a batch of tunes from the yet-to-be-released album, too. Abruptly switching gears for the ballad-ish “We Can Get Together,” Finn declared that the song was about “being in love with rock and roll.” He sang, “Heaven is the whole of our hearts/And paradise by the dashboard lights.” It’s undoubtedly the only song in rock history that name-checks Husker Du and quotes Meat Loaf, but it really didn’t translate into a strong performance live.
Mostly, though, the Hold Steady simply rocked the house. No, the show wasn’t nearly as sweaty or as manic as last year’s stop at Valentine’s. But what did you expect? The Hold Steady without beer is like peanut butter without jelly. Like Simon without Garfunkel. Like Batman without Robin. There’s just something missing…
Baltimore-based indie-rock foursome the Oranges Band opened the show with a 40-minute set that drew heavily from their new album, “The Oranges Band Are Invisible,” showcasing vintage new-wave influences and some mighty fierce drumming from Dave Voyles.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
And prior to their show at The Linda on Wednesday, the Hold Steady dropped by the studios of WEXT-FM to play some songs and chat. Listen to it at 12noon on Friday.
You can also read my review in The Times Union.
THE HOLD STEADY SET LIST
Sequestered in Memphis
Citrus (totally acoustic)
Cheyenne Sunrise (totally acoustic)
First Night (semi acoustic)
Soft in the Center
Hurricane J (with the Oranges Band’s Roman Kuebler)
Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
Stuck Between Stations
Our Whole Lives
Joke About Jamaica
We Can Get Together
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
A Slight Discomfort
You Can Make Him Like You
How a Resurrection Really Feels
THE ORANGES BAND SET LIST
My Mechanical Mind
Ride the Nuclear Wave
I Wouldn’t Worry About It
I’ll Never Be Alone/One More Dog