Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin
The Hold Steady’s appearance on stage last Friday night at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany was prefaced by playing Lou Reed singing “we’re going to have a real good time together” over the sound system. Then singer/bandleader Craig Finn came to the mic and told the crowd the same thing to start the show. It WAS going to be a real good time together for about the 300 or so fans [in the club proper and along the periphery] that came out to hear them. Finn and band surged into their new album Teeth Dreams’ opening track, “I Hope This Song Doesn’t Frighten You.” Finn alternately pleaded, cheer-leaded and silently mouthed words over again that he had just sung – off mic to the fans up front – imposing an irony by questioning what the hell those words just meant alternating with silently mouthing some of the words over again to reinforce them, like using a fluorescent highlighter to make you pay attention to them.
Craig Finn is smiling a lot these days, during and between songs, and he should be. He said in a Providence Phoenix interview that this current line-up and their charisma is about as good as it gets. They WERE about as good as it gets Friday night at the Hollow. THS served up a good dose of half the stuff from their new album, along with an abundance of other fan favorites about little hood rat friends, a hurricane named Jesse, rock and roll problems and staying positive. They played 24 songs in all.
Three songs into it, he told the crowd of his Saratoga Race Track experience some years ago, where he won a drinking match with his sister by downing 29 beers. He is still gloating a bit about it, he admitted. He continued with a story about a woman calling on the phone while he was at the track, telling him to play a horse for her. With that the band lunged into “Chips Ahoy.” “She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race, I think his name was Chips Ahoy” was sung while Finn and audience hand-signaled various numbers to each other as they came up, with the audience also singing along with the “wo-ah-oh-ee-ah- oh-ee-oh” background vocals. A Hold Steady show is a collaborative experience with the audience, and everyone involved comes out ahead for it.