Throughout the majority of their career, The Hold Steady’s name has held quite true, as reflected in their remarkably consistency body of work. Among four excellent records and a reputation for concerts that few can surpass, they have constantly produced music at the highest of levels. Over the past six months, however, the band has traversed a shaky transition. After losing longtime keyboardist Franz Nicolay, their work has seen significant repercussions, most particularly in their recent release of Heaven Is Whenever—an album standing as their most polished and least authentically energetic album to date.
While there were a number of issues with that record, the potential silver lining with the current state of the band remains their live act—a statement that rang true throughout their Atlanta performance at the Variety Playhouse. The Hold Steady came out fronted by Craig Finn’s sweet, unadulterated and grateful smile as the band kicked off their set with the Heaven Is Whenever twang-laced opener “The Sweet Part of the City.” From there, The Hold Steady kicked off their set full of their signature passion and seemingly ceaseless energy, efficiently and consecutively making their way through their anthemic classics “Constructive Summer” and “Hot Soft Light,” as well as the riff-ridden numbers “Rock Problems” and “Magazines.”
The one distinct difference with the rearranged band is the noticeable movement of their keyboards and synthesizers away from the forefront. Despite this, the now sextet has managed to embody the same amount of energy as in the past. “Stuck Between Stations” and “Sequestered in Memphis” had the infectious piano nearly reworked out of the song in the absence of Nicolay.
Even with this questionable revamping, the Hold Steady counteracted this by performing a surprisingly balanced set, playing nearly equal amounts from each of their five albums, even reaching for older, guitar focused tracks like “Sweet Payne,” “Barfruit Blues,” and “Most People are DJs.” Craig Finn’s stained and road-worn guitar, sweat-drenched button down, and constantly animated gestures indicated his long-standing commitment to truly bringing his all to the live arena each and every night. New cuts “The Weekenders” and “Hurricane J” seemingly passed the test, while the fan favorite “Chips Ahoy” and the reverb-heavy “Slapped Actress” provoked sing-alongs.
The band returned for a four song encore, starting off with the Heaven Is Whenever track “We Can Get Together” as everyone raised their hands with Finn, alluding to their most recent album cover. The Hold Steady efficiently rocked out “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and “Southtown Girls,” before ending with the short but sweet, poignant yet powerful “Stay Positive.” And as Finn convincingly repeatedly asked for the crowd to “Stay Positive, Atlanta,” his band’s actions seemed to provide fans hope that their reputation as one of the most invigorating live shows in recent memory would remain intact.
“The Sweet Part of the City”
“Hot Soft Light”
“Going on a Hike” (New Song)
“Stuck Between Stations”
“Cattle and the Creeping Things”
“You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With)”
“Sequestered in Memphis”
“Most People are DJ’s”
“We Can Get Together”
“Your Little Hoodrat Friend”