27th June 2010, early evening. Worthy Farm. Sun beating down. I was biding my time for New York’s Vampire Weekend on the nearby Pyramid and had decided just to chill out with a pint of cider. They didn’t sell real beer. I knew that The Hold Steady (also from NYC) were about to take the stage and had heard Chips Ahoy! and liked it but really had little idea what to expect and little interest – this was my moment of carefree relaxation, a rare gap in my self inflicted busy ‘must see’ schedule.
The Sweet Part of the City opened the set and it felt like the musical equivalent of my mood. I propped my head up and watched the set from a horizontal position and really loved what I heard and saw. I later put this down to the environment; right place and right time. The Hold Steady had suited my mood.
Fast forward 4 years + and the band are in town. Expectations are high this time around, though it can’t be as good as the first time.
Back in 2010 I’d just experienced the brilliant Danny & the Champions of the World prior to catching The Hold Steady. Sadly, tonight’s openers The So So Glos were not as much to my liking. To be fair, they are a very solid band but for me they have no musical USP. The songs are ok and the guitars are good but it’s nothing new and nothing special. In a way, a perfect warm up band; adequate but never going to upstage a good headliner.
The Hold Steady have a huge USP in the form of charismatic geek frontman Craig Finn. His enthusiasm is almost juvenile but absolutely endearing and infectious. As one Glastonbury 2010 goer put it on twitter “RT @davidhaskoll: I love the dude from The Hold Steady, it’s like he won a competiton to front the band for a day, or something.” He can also deliver a song mind you, and his between songs banter is also top drawer. It would be remiss also not to mention that the band are very tight and professional and each one of them also exudes an air of innocent enjoyment which transmits to the willing crowd.
The other thing The Hold Steady have going for them is songs, really good songs. For approximately ten years or more they’ve been producing catchy indie singalong power chord dependent indie opuses like The Swish, Stay Positive and Chips Ahoy! All of those got an airing tonight and along with ‘Chips’ the highlight for me was a rocking rendition of ‘Sequestered in Memphis’ but the less familiar songs from the latest album were not relegated to fillers, not a single song from a set list of 17 outstayed its welcome. Off the new output perhaps Spinners was notably the best received.
Weekenders finished the main set off in style and it’s a mark of how much I’d enjoyed the gig that instead of quietly anticipating the expected encore I screamed for more, along with many others. More came in the form of Your Little Hoodrat Friend and a rousing version of Stay Positive which saw The So So Glos join the headliners on stage to see out the last gig of their UK tour in style.
So on reflection I asked myself. In 2010 at Glastonbury did I enjoy The Hold Steady’s set because it simply fitted my mood? As I left the Riverside on a crisp dry October night with the same warm feeling and big grin on my face I had to conclude that they may have been responsible for it.
Reviewer and photographer: Russell Poad