No matter how you spent your Record Store Day on Saturday (April 17), it probably wasn’t nearly as busy as the day hyper-literate, heavy-drinking Brooklyn rockers the Hold Steady had. To celebrate the retail-based holiday that honors local music retailers as well as the limited-edition vinyl-only release of their new album Heaven Is Whenever (available to the non-turntable-owning public on May 4), they played a pair of shows, beginning the evening at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan and closing out the night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg.
Having lost mustachioed keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the group has fleshed out its lineup with new ivory tickler Dan Neustadt and a third guitarist named Steve Selvidge (formerly of Lucero). Though the new members only have two weeks of touring under their belt, there weren’t a whole lot of missteps during the group’s late-night set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Armed with a handful of new tunes (including the raucous “Hurricane J” and the lovely “We Can Get Together”), the band reminded the devotees gathered after midnight that despite their leanings toward Springsteenian Americana and good old fashioned classic rock, this is a hardcore band at heart. Their loose, pummeling renditions of crowd favorites like “Massive Nights” and “Multitude of Casualties” had a serious edge to them, but that’s not to say that they were lost in the noise. On the contrary, the band’s tight melodies floated above the sweaty chaos, making singalongs like “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Stuck Between Stations” into full-fledged hands-in-the-air anthems.
The tracks from their breakout album Boys and Girls in America came across best, including a powerful rendition of “You Can Make Him Like You” and the excellent one-two acoustic punch of “Citrus” and “First Night” during the encore. The band itself seemed sharp and lean — you would have never guessed that they had already expended the energy in a show only a few hours earlier. Without Nicolay’s dancing and facial expressions to take some of the heat off, Finn was left to himself to deliver the sole frontman performance. He was well up to the task, shaking around, interacting with the crowd and even striking a Henry Rollins-esque crouch (complete with microphone cord wrapped around his arm) during one of the night’s heavier moments.
In the past, Finn had spent a part of Hold Steady shows explaining the story of the band, ending with the signature line “This brings us so much joy.” He didn’t drop that line on Saturday night, instead just opting for a thank you near the end of the set. But the group that named their last album Stay Positive believes in the power of rock and roll, and their infectious energy manages to turn even the most cynical rock fan into a believer. Stay positive, indeed.