Everyone has good and bad days at work. Right? Well, hopefully you have some good days mixed in with the bad. But if you’re a rock band, you have to be on it every night. If you’re having a bad day, you cannot let the audience see or feel it. If they do, you’re not going to make any new fans and you might even lose a few.
The days of the glamorous rock star are over. Even bands with a respectable following like The Hold Steady, The National and Drive-By Truckers struggle day to day to get out there on the road and give it all they’ve got every night. I remember one night I saw The Twilight Sad open for Aerogramme at The Independent in San Francisco. The Twilight Sad had just got an 8.6 rating for their debut album on Pitchfork, but these Scottish kids did not look happy onstage. At one point the drummer threw his sticks in the air and stormed offstage in the middle of a song. He came back about 5 minutes later. Later that night they were working their own merch booth and sent said drummer to buy burritos once they sold a couple shirts. You might expect this from a young band touring through a foreign country, but Aerogramme had been doing this for years and they hung it up not long after this show…saying they didn’t wish this life on anyone.
You would think The Hold Steady would be immune from this. The first 5 or 6 times I saw them they were having so much fun onstage I couldn’t imagine that they had anything but the perfect life. But recently their shows have lost that feeling. That feeling of seeing something unique; something exciting. The first time I saw them at Great American Music Hall was 15 days after Boys & Girls In America came out and even though I was still partial to Separation Sunday, when they busted into Party Pit with the sing-along ‘gonna walk around and drink some more’, it made me want to do just that…all night (which I did). The 4th time I saw them was 15 days after Stay Positive came out and by that point I was partial to Boys & Girls, but they performed songs from all their albums and once again I wanted to (and did) ‘walk around and drink some more!’
All these shows all around San Francisco were amazing. I looked forward to each time Craig and crew came to town like no other band. But then I moved to Colorado and saw them for the first time in Boulder. The show was good, but the crowd sucked and I just didn’t have to same experience. Then I went back to California and saw them at the Fillmore a couple months ago. This was the first time I’d seen them since Franz had left and they were getting some backlash based on their newest album, Heaven is Whenever. I didn’t expect to be disappointed. I like the new album and didn’t think the lack of one moustached keyboardist would make a difference. But it did. It wasn’t a bad show, but it wasn’t a great show. I didn’t even take the time to review it.
So when The Hold Steady announced they were coming back to Colorado to play the Ogden, I bought tickets out of habit. Then the day came and I went through the motions. Had a drink a home, had a couple beers and a bite at Cheeky Monk and then went to the show. I had no expectations. And it ended up being on of their best performances!
We got right up to the stage just in time for the opening Positive Jam. This led into a playlist of one song from each album and kept going with a perfect mixture of all their best material. Craig and crew were on it! They seemed to be having just as much fun as the audience…and that’s saying a lot. All memories of the Fillmore show left my head as we all sang along ‘how’m I supposed to know that you’re high if you won’t let me touch you!’
They ended up playing an hour and a half set with only a few duds (Navy Sheets and Barely Breathing) and even performed an unreleased song that ‘reminds (Craig) of Colorado’ called Goin for a Hike. The encore was made up of anthems Southtown Girls and Massive Nights before ending the night with one of my favorites, Slapped Actress.
I would have loved to hear Party Pit and I still think it’s a big mistake to leave that out…but overall I had have my faith restored in one of my favorite bands. I don’t think the Fillmore show had anything to do with the absence of Franz or material from the new album. I just think they had a bad day at work. It happens to all of us. But thank god it doesn’t happen to The Hold Steady very often.