The Hold Steady / Titus Andronicus @ Sayreville 7/24

August 20, 2009

After selling out four nights in New York in tiny 500-person clubs (two nights at Bowery Ballroom and two at Music Hall of Williamsburg), The Hold Steady set their sights on New Jersey’s 2200-person Starland Ballroom. Though the night did no’t sell out, the venue was fairly packed with a crowd as diverse as The Hold Steady’s influences; the audience was filled with Bruce Springsteen and ’80s hardcore punk shirts alike.

William Shakespeare-inspired Titus Andronicus opened the evening, but unfortunately fell victim to awful sound from the venue. From the beginning, everything was muddy–to the point that it was unenjoyable to stand and listen. Their debut album, The Airing of Grievances, is a strong indie album, but the band just did not sound good on a warm Friday in Jersey. Much of the crowd stood outside to smoke or wandered the venue’s multiple bars during the band’s set.

The Hold Steady also suffered from the venue’s sound problems, but the band managed to overcome those issues with an incredibly strong performance.  Lead guitarist Tad Kubler kept things interesting while drummer Bobby Drake and bassist Galen Polivka kept a rocksteady rhythm as the band reached effortlessly across their entire discography for nearly two hours.

“Most People are DJs”, from 2004’s Almost Killed Me, started the night with frontman Craig Finn frantically pouring his entire soul into every word. Packed with tribute to Iggy Pop, Dillinger Four, and The Clash, “Constructive Summer” found the entire crowd singing along. The band seemed to race through songs, with “Hot Soft Light” coming in at just over two minutes despite its four minute studio length.

Finn introduced the band (and showcased his own guitar ability with a few technical licks) during the middle of “Charlemagne in Sweatpants” before kicking into “Massive Nights”. The band played Boys and Girls in America b-side “Girls Like Status” but unfortunately skipped out on “Ask Her For Some Adderall”, a b-side from Stay Positive that received treatment on the band’s live album A Positive Rage. The full setlist:

Most People are DJs
Constructive Summer
Hot Soft Light
The Swish
Girls Like Status
Navy Sheets
Banging Camp
Charlemagne in Sweatpants
Massive Nights
Don’t Let Me Explode
Party Pit
Sequestered in Memphis
Stevie Nix
Yeah Sapphire
Lord, I’m Discouraged
Hornets! Hornets!
You Can Make Him Like You
Southtown Girls
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Stay Positive
Stuck Between Stations
Chips Ahoy!
Slapped Actress

The band’s encore began with the tributory title track, “Stay Positive”, with references to two early hardcore-punk acts, Youth of Today and 7 Seconds. Two cuts from Boys in Girls in America (raising the night’s total to eight from that era) preceded the band’s final song, “Slapped Actress”. Despite poor sound from the venue, the night was quite enjoyable and The Hold Steady put one of of the strongest performances of the year.