Last night, I saw the Drive-By Truckers and the Hold Steady co-headlining at the clinical, weirdly located, blind spot-plagued Terminal 5. I had high expectations going in, as the Hold Steady are one of my favorite bands and released what will probably end up being the best album of the year, Stay Positive. Holy shit, what a great fucking album. I'm far less familiar with the Drive-By Truckers, but they seem to tread similar terrain as the Hold Steady: lots of classic rock-influenced, story-oriented songs about drinking. The pairing of the two bands is appropriate on paper, and there did seem to be a lot of people singing along to both bands.
I was planning on getting drunk during the show, as that's probably the best way to experience a Hold Steady performance, but when I got to Terminal 5, security was patting people down, and I had a moment of paranoia and went and hid my flask at a construction site before I entered. I could have just put it in my sock, but no, I had to panic instead. So my anxiety over potentially losing my flask colored my mood throughout the show, preventing me from enjoying the show as much as I could have. Perhaps it was for the best, though, as there were a lot of pushy assholes inside, and alcohol would have pissed me off even more.
I got there about halfway through the Drive-By Truckers' set. I heard some guy remark that the first half sucked, so I guess it was good that I arrived late, as the second half wasn't all that hot, either. From where I was standing, the sound was problematic, way too trebly and the vocals too loud. Their songs were okay, pretty standard Southern rock. They (The Hold Steady, too) fall pretty squarely in the realm of young-dad rock. My dad is probably a little too old to appreciate these bands, but dads with kids tween-age or younger love them. The Drive-By Truckers' bassist looks like a chubby, mulleted Marnie Stern. One of the singer/guitarists was swigging directly from a bottle of Jack Daniel's, which I thought was hilariously, stereotypically Southern. The band is from Georgia, and clearly take their roots very seriously. Sorry I don't have more to say about them, but they were pretty forgettable.
After a promoter from some radio station announced, "hold on for the Hold Steady," the band took the stage in front of a nifty backdrop of a decrepit drive-in theater with their broken-infinity logo projected onto the screen. They correctly started with Stay Positive's opener, "Constructive Summer," which set the tone for the rest of the show, with glasses raised and the crowd shouting along. The shouting crowd worked well for the more anthemic moments of the show, but got way overbearing at other points, with people clapping through the quiet parts of every song, and an adorable/annoying couple kept bumping into me while dancing the whole time. The crowd was approximately one-third dudes in casual dress shirts, which is probably on the low side for the band's fans overall.
The set covered all of the band's discography, and the new songs fit well with the old songs in a live setting, owing largely to the ongoing thematic interconnectedness of Craig Finn's lyrics. They were energetic and enthusiastic, with keyboardist Franz Nicolay in particular adding a theatrical flourish, waving a free hand around and tossing his wine bottle up in the air before drinking from it. Craig Finn has an interesting habit of singing the last line of a stanza, then standing at the edge of the stage shouting the line unamplified several times at the audience. Highlights included a particularly eerie version of Stay Positive's murder ballad "One for the Cutters," and a cover of the Minutemen's classic "History Lesson, Part II" in which Finn adapted D. Boon and Mike Watt's story to his own, transplanting it from Southern California to the Twin Cities and giving a shout out to Paul Westerberg. While overall not as electrifying as it could have been, with a few flat-footed ballads and some strangely limp guitar solos, it was still a very solid, affable set, and besides, The Hold Steady would have to try really hard to fuck up songs as awesome as "Chips Ahoy!" and "Magazines."