Following along on my phone, I noticed that at 9:12 p.m., game two of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins had ended. The Yankees won 5-2 to take a 2-0 lead in the series, putting them just one win away from eliminating Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn's beloved team. Three minutes later, at 9:15, the band took the stage for their first New York City show since they played Music Hall and Bowery in the same night back in April. I was sure Finn would mention the baseball game. I thought it might come up even before they played a note. Not so.
Instead, they came out and did a typically rousing version of "Constructive Summer" from 2008's Stay Positive. It segued perfectly into "Massive Nights," an underrated deep album-cut from Boys and Girls in America. The real Hold Steady nerds among us get an added bonus when, through a carefully changed line at the very end, we learn that, for tonight anyway, the girl in the song is Jesse, from Heaven is Whenever standout "Hurricane J," which they play next, followed by "Sequestered in Memphis" and "The Swish," all without saying so much as a word between songs, let alone anything about a baseball game. Only before launching into "Rock Problems" did Finn get chatty, but even then it was merely instructional: "Move around, drink some beer, and ignore those seats," he insisted.
Truth be told, this is not really something your typical Hold Steady fan needs to be told to do. It's sort of their thing: the beer drinking comes naturally, of course (even at $8 for a lousy Bud Light), and after enough of that, the moving does too—spastic, woefully uncool moving that says loud and clear, "I don't give a fuck what happened in my office today, and I give even less of a fuck about what will happen there tomorrow." At one point, I believe during "Magazines," I watched a man with an aisle seat in front of me grow so excited that he just couldn't take it anymore. He grabbed his female companion by the hand and sprinted down the aisle to be closer to the stage. She came back a minute later to grab her purse, but only for a second before dutifully rejoining him up front.
The band sounded good—road-tested as usual. It was my first time seeing them since the departure of Franz Nicolay earlier this year, and the truth is I didn't even think of it until about halfway through the set. If he's missed at all, it's during the slower songs like "The Sweet Part of the City" and "We Can Get Together," which work fine on record but can sound thin in a live setting. As it turned out, those songs bookended a particularly thrilling stretch, from "Magazines" through "Stevie Nix," "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" and "Multitude of Casualties" from Separation Sunday, intoBoys and Girls in America outtake "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With)," and crowd-favorite "Chips Ahoy."
The closed strong too. "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" got an extended instrumental break and a touching little speech from Finn about how he moved to New York City on September 15th of 2000 and started the band because he was bored with his day job. When the song came back in, it was for the quiet part: "City Center used to be the center of our scene/Now City Center's over/No one really goes there/And then some nights we used to drink beneath this railroad bridge/Some nights the bus wouldn't even stop, there were just too many kids." Chills, every single time.
"Stay Positive" was predictably dopey but fun—and I'll tell you, the line, "'Cause the kids at the shows, they'll have kids of their own, and the singalong songs will be our scriptures" feels much different when you have, in fact, just had a kid. "Slapped Actress" remains the perfect closer, allowing Finn to stand at the edge of the stage, arms spread wide, nowhere near the microphone, leading the crowd through the "whoa-oh" parts until we no longer need leading. For the encore, we get "Hornets! Hornets!," a hard-hitting version of "Stuck Between Stations" and, finally, "Killer Parties." Before it, Finn points out into different parts of the crowd and says, "You, and you, and you, and you guys up there—everyone, you are all, we are all The Hold Steady." We know that we're not, but it feels good to be told as much.