Monday, October 02, 2006

We were overjoyed

Photo taken from Kathryn's photostream.

Reveling at tonight's Hold Steady show in Irving Plaza, about six months after the band's April barnburner at Warsaw, I reached some conclusions about crowds at Hold Steady shows. What I saw last April was not an outlier.

These are not the standard New York concertgoing crowds. People do not stand hugging themselves, nod indifferently, and chat between songs. There is hardly a hipster in sight -- the sniffling indie kids and the clustered up clubber kids are called out at the start of the encore set when, inevitably, Craig Finn starts it off with a positive jam. The median age is somewhere in the early 30s. A solid contingent of exiles from the Upper Midwest make up the crowd, as is made clear when Craig Finn references Minneapolis or the region during his segues between songs.

In this city, only at a Hold Steady show do you see middle-aged professional greybeards jumping -- jumping -- next to a trio of hot 25-year-old girls shouting about how Mackenzie Phillips doesn't live here anymore. Most nights you see a band perform to a crowd that roundly could not give a shit.

So The Hold Steady sings about how they always dream of a unified scene, and at their shows they somehow pull it off. My voice hoarse and fist in the air, I turned back to say something to a friend and caught the eye of a woman standing next to me. She and I didn't say anything, just smiled -- beamed -- in a moment of collective triumph that I've rarely experienced anywhere other than Michigan Stadium.

The rapport between band and audience is incomparable. For all the gripes about Craig Finn not having a melodic singing voice, it's his rhythmic half-shouting that makes a great live show. Anyone can sing along, and everyone seems to. When they broke into "Southtown Girls," a song from an album that isn't even released yet, instead of an unaccompanied a capella voice beginning the song's opening anthem, all of Irving Plaza was singing: Southtown girls won't blow you away, but you know that they'll stay. This appeared to take the band completely by surprise.

This intensity and affection goes both ways: When guitarist Tad Kubler stepped to the microphone and said, "We can't thank you guys enough," there wasn't a drop of cynicism.

Tonight's penultimate song was "Most People Are DJs." Craig Finn opened up his arms like he was hugging the entire crowd, repeatedly mouthing the words 'Thank you." Tad drank from a bottle of Jack Daniels and passed it down to the crowd. Crowd surfing ensued. Every hand in the house was in the air. By then, my arms were hurting. My voice had run out.

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