Having kids can make planning outings complicated. Having unborn kids, especially when the finish line is in sight (37 weeks and counting) makes it even more tricky, with the knowledge that things could kick off at any time. And so it was that I found myself without ticket, paying at the door for a gig I’d been looking forward to since it was announced last year.
Knowing I wouldn’t make doors at 7, I’d emailed the ABC earlier in the day to find out on-stage times for the evening: “Approx time for hold steady : on stage 8.15″ was the reply. Arriving at the venue at just after 7:30 (why is it impossible to find a parking space when you’re running late?), I fully expected Wintersleep to be near the end of their support slot. It was a welcome surprise, then, to discover that they weren’t due on until 7:45, with the Hold Steady coming on at 9. That’ll teach me to plan in advance!
I first saw Wintersleep in the Captain’s Rest last September, and have been listening to them since then, so I was looking forward to their set, and they didn’t disappoint. Weighty Ghost is probably their best known song, and it was presented mid-set, sounding a bit harder than the recorded version I’m used to hearing. The slowly filling venue seemed to like them, although I still think closing with a 10 minute instrumental track was a bit risky and over-indulgent. You can do stuff like that as a headliner, but it doesn’t really work when you’re the support.
And so to the Hold Steady. As a relative newcomer to the band, I’m still working at learning the words – and there are a lot of words! – so although just about everything sounded familiar, there are very few songs I could definitely say they did play (and the interweb is drawing a disappointing blank). Sequestered in Texas, possibly my favourite Hold Steady song, was definitely played though, and gave me an early example of something that bothered me for the rest of the gig – no keys.
Other than the odd YouTube clip, I’ve not seen the band with Franz Nicolay or any other keyboard player, so I don’t have much comparison. But I definitely felt some songs really missed the piano/organ parts that I’ve grown so used to hearing over the past year or so, and that’s without taking into account Nicolay’s stage presence. A lot of the time the show felt like it was Craig Finn and his backing band, an effect which seemed much less prominent in the -with-Nicolay clips I’ve seen before.
This is starting to sound a bit negative, and that’s not really fair – Finn is as engaging a front man as I’ve ever seen, and the band sound great and the songs are great and the interaction with the crowd is wonderful. I just hope that next time there’s someone bringing the keyboard parts to life again.
Because there will be a next time. And surely that’s the best compliment of all?