The Hold Steady Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON July 16
Published Jul 18, 2010"When you're young, you wish you were older, and when you're old, you wish you were young again," asserted Hold Steady singer Craig Finn, from the Phoenix stage. "That's what this song is about."
He was referring to "Hurricane J," but he could have used that intro for any of the band's songs written in the last five years. With Finn turning 40 next year, the Hold Steady are now legitimately old for an indie rock band — a fact was reflected by an eclectic audience that ran the gamut of both age and subculture — but live, they're showing no signs of losing any steam.
The band's latest album, Heaven Is Whenever, is arguably their weakest in a while, but onstage, it made nary a difference; Finn is the same joyful, enthusiastic figure he's always been, jerking his arms dramatically around onstage in his weird, hip-hop-meets-valley-girl way and mouthing lyrics excitedly off the microphone in anticipation of the next line. By the third song, "Constructive Summer," the 19-plus crowd was already happily moshing about, throwing their pointed fingers Finn's way whenever he sang the word "you," and as the band flew through vivacious renditions of "Chips Ahoy," "Barfruit Blues," and "Little Hoodrat Friend," they only got more involved.
Absent from the live mix was recently departed keyboardist Franz Nicolay, who left a noticeable hole in the performance of certain songs. Where Nicolay used to add musicianship and flair to the band's performance — especially on important parts of "Chips Ahoy" and "Stuck Between Stations" — there were either flimsy guitar substitutes or, worse, pre-recorded audio snippets clearly played by a less talented pianist.
Besides those small flaws, the Hold Steady performed the great majority of the set at full-throttle, and made the batch of songs from Heaven Is Whenever, which dominated the band's set, sound better live than on record. The choice to include a healthy chunk of back catalogue was still a wise one: the Hold Steady might be getting old, but as they say, classics never go out of style.