When The Hold Steady played Epic Studios on the 11th October it is definitely true that there were people of different ages in the audience but not of all ages. There was a distinct demographic. Dads. Now touring their sixth LP, their first release in four years and entering their second decade as a band, The Hold Steady have been around for a while. Their new album title Teeth Dreams allegedly refers to a common dream that presumably one or all of the band suffer from. Dreams about teeth, they say (they being anyone from Jung to some online dream interpreter), are usually triggered by anxiety. Right, okay.
Double Punch, an unengaging 5 piece (Mumford and Sons do loudish rock and roll) open for THS with very little charisma. The drummer has snowflakes tattooed on his shoulders where inmates of Vladimirsky Central have stars, I don’t think he’d fair very well in a Russian prison. He is marginally more interesting than the lead guitar player, mouthing impassionedly along without a mic, who is marginally more interesting than singer. The singer is not interesting. One of them breaks a violin string. Interest peaks.
Downstairs a post-rock two piece called Pony and Trap are howling and crashing around with their fringes flying. They don’t deserve the seated ten person crowd.
Upstairs things radically improve with The So So Glos. They’re a gang of loudly incoherent punks lead by one particularly loud and incoherent punk who raves about the vacuum of the internet from within his Wu Tang T-shirt. They’re having fun, they’re sweating, maybe I’m having fun? I am sweating. Notable things they said shouted: “We’re standing in the face of all the modern world”, “fuck you” and “that last song was sarcastic.” Apparently it was their last gig ever and I honestly think that’s a shame. Norwich crowds are too polite to do their last gig justice.
The Hold Steady look good. Craig Finn is looking usual, harmless even, but when he takes up the microphone and rushes up and down the stage he jumps out of his rock pool and becomes a screaming tidal wave (in a liberally cut black shirt). People (Pitchfork) said that The Hold Steady’s sixth LP is undeniably the worst sounding and that may well be true…Teeth Dreams is a grey and ever so slightly lazy version of what the Hold Steady sound like. On stage however, letting go of those bleeding, broken lines about faceless doorway-darkening barely-breathing too-skinny kids from every city in America where you can cough up blood, they sound far from their worst. Unlike Teeth Dreams, but that’s a very different conversation.
Finn teases the audience, he flirts, muttering the opening lines of Stay Positive slower and slower before flying forward and throwing himself into their new single Spinners. The crowd left with ‘yeah it feels pretty good’ falling out of their mouths like birthday balloons abandoned our sticky hands when that huge present appeared from behind the garden furniture.
When they do get to Stay Positive, strobes start going off. As a lament to changing times and an aging audience they build themselves a monument. All the middle-aged beer users lose every single bit of their minds. Sequestered in Texas happens. A photographer starts head-banging. Solos on all guitars. Kisses blown at the end. No encore, genuine disappointment all round.
Without getting oddly referential; in stage light they looked all right, but alternatively in bar light I imagine they could look slightly desperate.
Tangentially, if you live in Norwich I believe it to be highly beneficial, at least occasionally, for one to have love stories from Minneapolis shouted at you from behind bright lights.