REVIEW: The Hold Steady – May 22nd – The Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO

The Scene: We got to The Ogden REALLY early as I wanted to be sure I could see the stage for this one and we ended up right at the front of the balcony (best spot in The Ogden IMHO) which I was thrilled about but we had to wait a while for The Swayback to come on. As the crowd filtered in, there were people from just about every walk of life. There was an older couple next to us enjoying their beers and chatting, teenagers camped out right in front of the stage, hipsters and preps, meatheads and sorority girls. It was a great crowd and by the time The Hold Steady came on the venue was about 3/4 full . . . perfect for the Ogden, any more and people can’t see upstairs and it gets to crushed downstairs.

Opener: The Swayback. Solid local Denver power trio with a Sabbathy feel. It was too bad there weren’t more people in the venue for their set. I would definately check them out at a smaller venue in town as they have the 70’s rock thing down pretty well. I do think that they could be a little tighter as a band but that will come with time I am sure. Unfortunately the guy running the light board for their set obviously didn’t give a damn about what he3 was doing as for much of the set Lead Singer and Bassist Eric Halborg was virtually in the dark.

Opener: The Heartless Bastards. To be honest I didn’t dig these guys as much as I thought I would. They are a three piece from Cincinatti and they played a interesting blend of indie rock tinged with Alt-Country. Lead singer Erika Wennerstrom’s voice seemed to get lost in the mix as she hollered her way through the bands 35 minute set.

The standout member of band was drummer Kevin Vaughn who sat hunched over the drums vaguely resembling a gorilla as his sticks deftly floated around the kit in perfect time.

The Hold Steady: In the words of Craig Finn “I think it goes without saying to say” that anyone who has seen The Hold Steady for the first time recently wished they saw The Hold Steady years ago in a much smaller venue. They are a bar band that sweats when they rock and doesn’t hold back. It was no coincidence I am sure that when they came on shortly after 10 the house sound system was blaring Boston’s “Rock-n-Roll Band.” While these guys are from Brooklyn (via Minneapolis) and not from Boston, they are on the road trying to make ends meet and judging by their performance in Denver, I am sure they are doing just fine.

As if to say, “if you came to hear this, you can go home now,” Craig Finn and company opened up with “Stuck Between Stations.” The track, the first on their dazzling third album Boys and Girls in America, is probably the biggest hit of their relatively short career. Tad Kubler’s E Street strum was bolstered by the raucous rhythm section and Franz Nicolay’s barroom piano. The party was in full swing by the time Finn got to the first line of the song and he didn’t let it slow down all night.

In his own unique voice Finn sang about betting on the pony’s, high school dances, acid trips and religion while introducing us to some of the most well developed characters in modern rock music. After a short time with The Hold Steady we all felt like we knew Charlemagne, the strung out addict, and Holly, the hoodrat who found religion. Finn has a way of telling a story that really worms its way into your soul. Lyrics like “if they ask about Charlemagne be polite and say something vague,” or “Holly was a sexy mess. She looked strung out but experienced,” usher you into the world of Penetration Park, The Party Pit, Ybor City and Hostile Massachusetts. It isn’t a world that many of us would venture into on our own but hand in hand with The Hold Steady it’s a hell of a ride.

Between songs Finn’s banter was upbeat. Before the band ripped into “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” he asked us how many people were from the Twin Cities. When the loyal contingent screamed and waved he thanked them for being the ones that moved to Denver and not Chicago. He also shared a personal pet peeve of his when he introduced “Most People Are DJs” by saying “I don’t know if you all have this problem in your town, but back in New York there are DJs everywhere. They are in the Laundromats, the coffee shops, the bookstores and the clothing stores. I wrote this song about everyone who thinks they’re a DJ.”

All in all, the band careened their way through 13 songs in nearly 70 minutes before heading off the stage. The crowd wouldn’t let up and it wasn’t long before Finn was back at the mic thanking us profusely for our enthusiasm. For the first time all night the pace slowed as the acoustic guitars came out and Finn slid into his ode to booze, Citrus. The opening line “hey citrus hey liquor, I love it when when you touch each other,” spoke to the crowd who held their drinks high in approval.

To round out the evening, Finn led his band through an extended version of “Killer Parties” that featured some guitar acrobatics from Kubler while Finn himself lurched around the stage vaguely in time to the music. Are they the second coming of The E Street Band? No. While there is no doubt draw inspiration from Van Zandt and the rest of Springsteen’s crew, they are The Hold Steady and they seemed thrilled about it. They truly seem to be one of the bands out there who love every minute of being on stage doing what they love.

As the house lights came up and we all filtered out of the venue, the last lines of “Killer Parties” ran through my head and I thought about how well it captured the feeling of a Hold Steady show.

“If she says we partied then I’m pretty sure we partied. I really don’t remember. I remember we departed from our bodies.”

*Came on at 10:05 to Boston’s “Rock and Roll Band”
Stuck Between Stations
Chips Ahoy
The Swish
Hot Soft Light
Massive Nights
Party Pit
Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
You Can Make Him Like You
Stevie Nix
Guys Go For Looks Girls Go For Status
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Southtown Girls
How A Ressurection Really Feels

First Night
Most People Are DJs
Killer Parties
* Went Off at 11:30 to Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”

Energy: A
Sound: B+
Musicianship: B+
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: C+

Overall: A-


Who Is Timothy Dwenger

Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!