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Live Review: The Hold Steady w/ The Paranoid Style @ 9:30 Club — 6/21/24

Chrissie Hynde was once described as a punk rocker with a classic rock heart. Similarly, The Hold Steady are an indie rock band with a classic rock heart. And, like Hynde, frontman Craig Finn hails from middle America, the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to be specific. The Hold Steady’s mix of anthemic, Springsteen-influenced rock, the beer-soaked bar band meanderings of the Replacements, and the punk energy of Husker Du, filtered through the Catholic-influenced storytelling of frontman Craig Finn, has attracted a dedicated following that sold out the 9:30 Club recently for the second of three DC shows on their Constructive Summer 2024 Tour.

It was their first appearance at the 9:30 Club since 2014.

Finn, who had previously led the band Lifter Puller, formed THS after moving to Brooklyn in 2000. The full story of the band is captured in Michael Hann’s oral history The Gospel of The Hold Steady: How a Resurrection Really Feels. In a moment of self-deprecation, Finn suggested that the band has put out a lot of albums, and that many of them aren’t very good. Plenty of people would disagree — from the beginning, the band has been a favorite of critics.

Their debut, 2004’s Almost Killed Me, ranked 31st in the prestigious Pazz & Jopp poll. Religious themes dominated their follow-up, the concept album Separation Sunday, and they made their way into this 9:30 Club set on June 21, which ended with “Crucifixion Cruise” and “How a Resurrection Really Feels” (I complain about my aching, 43-year-old body, but at least I haven’t returned from being word food). Their third album, 2006’s Boys & Girls in America landed in several Top 10 lists for the year. The 9:30 Club set included three of those songs — “Stuck Between Stations,” “First Night,” and “Massive Nights,” with  “Chips Ahoy!” being played in the encore.

Watch the official music video for “Chips Ahoy!” by The Hold Steady on YouTube:

Their subsequent releases have continued to receive widespread acclaim, with the latest, The Price of Progress, arriving last year. They’re already past the immediate touring period behind that album, and the set only included a couple tracks from it: “Understudies and Sixers.”

Living up to the title of their tour, THS kicked things off with “Positive Jam.” I’d be willing to bet that Finn’s tendency to write songs with positive messages — songs like “Constructive Summer” and “You Did Good, Kid” — are as much an expression of his faith as are the songs that allude directly to Catholic iconography. In Catholicism, hope is considered one of the seven virtues, and Craig makes it his mission to spread hope.

I wish I could say more about some of the banter during this show, especially between Craig and Steve that preceded “Spices.” Unfortunately, I was surrounded by a group of people who talked throughout the show, which made it difficult to capture some of what went on. Their bothersomeness extended to, when I went to use the restroom, one of them throwing out his arms and moving his body to block my path. At one point, the gentleman next to me turned around and shooshed them; I would’ve moved, but I was sitting in one of the ADA reserved seats upstairs; I’d had a nerve block in my neck that afternoon, and was a little unsteady on my feet.

Speaking of the people next to me, it turned that the two gentlemen closest to me in the ADA section had also both attended the Wilco show I was at the night before. That’s not surprising: For all the differences between the two bands, they appeal to a similar audience. (Pejoratively, they’ve been called “dad rock,” but that’s a whole other discussion.)

“Barfruit Blues” dug into the territory that connects THS to the Replacements, while “Sequestered in Memphis” showed off Finn’s skills as a storyteller. The lengthy set also included “Party Pit,” “On With The Business,” “Entitlement Crew,” “Hurricane J,” “Sketchy Metal,” “Hot Soft Light,” “Family Farm,” “Southtown Girls,” and “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” In addition to “Chips Ahoy!” the encore consisted of “Certain Songs,” “Multitude of Casualties,” and “Killer Parties.”

In a rare appearance, The Paranoid Style played an opening set. Led by DC-based music journalist Elizabeth Nelson, The Paranoid Style doesn’t regularly tour. They play an intelligent brand of rock n’ roll that served as a nice complement to THS.  “An Endless Cycle of Meaningless Behavior,” Nelson commented, has “Alan Greenspan. If there’s one audience that’ll appreciate that, it’s Washington, DC.”

Their set included the title track of their most recent album, The Interrogator, which drew praise from literary horror icon Stephen King. Nelson’s political consciousness was on display in “The Sound of Structured Class,” and “Return of the Molly Maguires” went for a deep reference to history. They also played “Murder: The Experience,” “A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life,” “I’d Bet My Land & Titles,” “New Age Tricks,” “National Sunday Law,” and “Last Night In Chicken Town.” Notably, Peter Holsapple of the dBs played lead guitar.

Stream “Last Night in Chickentown” by The Paranoid Style on YouTube:

While much, maybe most of the audience was unfamiliar with The Paranoid Style, their smart, catchy songs were well received and did a great job of setting the table for The Hold Steady. And The Hold Steady absolutely killed it with great songs and a big, dynamic sound. While THS may not be back around for a while, frontman and songwriter Craig Finn plays the Miracle Theater on Nov. 22 as part of his This Is What It Looks Like: Solo Songs & Stories and tour. If you’re a fan of his songs, this is sure to be a night not to be missed.

Here are some photos of The Hold Steady performing at the 9:30 Club on June 21, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.

 

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Here are some photos of The Paranoid Style opening The Hold Steady at the 9:30 Club on June 21, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.

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