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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Hold Steady reclaim Minneapolis


CONCERT REVIEW: Basilica Block Party
July 11, 2009

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Let's face it, seeing the Hold Steady play live anywhere is a treat, but seeing them play in the city where they got their start, the city whose streets are referenced in numerous Hold Steady songs? That's pretty damn special. They rocked day 2 of the Basilica Block Party last night in Minneapolis.

I had intended to only catch 30 minutes of the Hold Steady's set before sprinting over to see the Counting Crows, but of course once Craig Finn and his bandmates took the stage, there was no way I was leaving. Finn did his outrageous lyrical miming like a charades player on crack, while keyboardist Franz Nicolay is becoming a madman onstage, jumping around with unbridled enthusiasm that was conspicuously absent the last time I saw the band.

I'm also realizing that Tad Kubler is one of the best guitarists in rock music. He's so low-key, I hadn't noticed this until recently. But when you see the Hold Steady play, Kubler is always the unsung hero of the show.

The setlist was a joy, starting with "Constructive Summer," a song that somehow gets better every time I hear it, and also including such favorites as "Massive Nights," "Stay Positive," "Chips Ahoy!" and "Southtown Girls." Nicolay's mike was noticably louder than at previous THS shows - the band has apparently (wisely) decided its background vocals should be more prominent.

As THS walked offstage, it was time to walk over to catch the Counting Crows. They're a tricky band because some of their songs are brilliant and others are incredibly boring. When I arrived at the Crows' stage I was greeted with a couple of the boring ones. A shockingly lifeless "Mr. Jones" was next, with Adam Duritz singing in a manner that suggested he's sung the song 5000 times before and no longer gives a shit.

The Crows did come alive for a spirited "Hangingaround," which featured a few dozen audience members dancing onstage, and for the encore of "Rain King," which rocked even though Duritz inserted an odd 2-minute piano section into the middle of the song.

Matt Nathanson opened for the Crows. His set included two strange covers - Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" and James' "Laid," both of which are probably best left to karaoke enthusiasts. His banter was entertaining - he introduced one song by saying that he wrote it for Miley Cyrus, to help her resolve her existential crisis as Hannah Montana.

The evening's first act was Texas band Green River Ordinance, who provided a satisfying brand of Our Lady Peace-meets-All-American Rejects mainstream rock n roll. Their lyrics need a bit of work - the chorus of one song was a trite, cliched "Don't give up on my love." But they showed enough promise with fun songs like "Goodbye L.A."

I have to comment about the logistics of the festival. This was the most poorly laid-out fest I've ever seen. There simply wasn't enough room around the stages for all the fans. They tried to fit 7,000 fans around stages that were meant for 2,000. During Matt Nathanson's set it was utterly impossible to move until you got all the way back to the food vendors - where you could no longer hear the music. This festival either needs to find a different venue, or bring in smaller acts so that people can actually breathe.

Also, you can't buy food with cash here. They have an incredibly bogus system where you purchase tickets, then use those tickets to buy your food. I felt like I was at Chuck E. Cheese. Of course this is a ripoff because you don't know in advance how many tickets you're going to need, so inevitably you purchase too many and end up losing money on the deal. I've never seen anything like this at a concert, but folks told me it was common here. Maybe it's a Minnesota thing.

Previous Summer Road Trip reviews:
7/4 Blake Shelton & Bucky Covington
6/23 Andrew W.K. & The Evaporators
6/19 Carbon Leaf
6/6 Peaches
6/3 Green Day
5/1-3 Beale Street Music Festival

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