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When two of Sean Smith's "Best of 2006" bands came to a large metropolitan area near you, he was in the crowd
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
In spite of all the great strides that have been and continue to be made in order to bring a more diverse line-up of music to town, some road trips are still necessary. Recently I made back-to-back treks out of the city limits to check out two very important bands that released very solid albums last year that wound up on my top ten list.
On March 16th, Joel Faurote and I headed toward Indianapolis to witness the majesty of the Hold Steady up close and personal. The show took place at a reconfigured Discovery Zone and upon arrival I was both ecstatic and depressed. The facility had my full support in choosing to be smoke free, however, the ambiance was that of a … well, a refurbished Discovery Zone. The stage was in the corner and the capacity was in the neighborhood of C2G. After a short but blistering set from openers The Thermals; Craig Finn (guitar and lead vocals), Tad Kubler (guitar and vocals), Galen Polivka (bass), Bobby Drake (drums) and Franz Nicolay (keyboard and vocals) came on stage and blasted off with “Stuck Between Stations,” the opening track from their 2006 release, Boys and Girls In America. They would go on to play the near majority of the album live, peppering in the choicest tracks from the two prior releases, Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday. Standouts included “The Swish,” “Banging Camp,” “Stevie Nix,” “Same Kooks,” and “Southtown Girls.” While Kubler jumped around like a 15 year old and wore his guitar out, Polivka and Drake kept the rhythm as tight as any glorified bar band I've ever witnessed. Nicolay is blessed with the finest mustache and background vocals in rock n roll right now, which worked almost as many wonders as Finn's incessant habit of mouthing the words to every line directly after singing them, as if he were leading some sort of campfire sing-along in reverse. Finn was fairly talkative, which allowed the others to take generous sips of their beers and whiskey, aside from Nicolay who had his own personal supply of vino. Finn discussed how he had added one more truth to the litany of other rock n roll truths ('you can't always get what you want' and 'manic depression's a frustrating mess') insofar as 'there are always other boys and you can make him like you.' He also congratulated the city on their recent SuperBowl win: "I hope you took a lot of joy in that." Just before leaving the stage, but not before one more barn burning future classic tune, Finn addressed the audience and said, "There is so much joy in what we do on stage. Thank you, Indianapolis, for sharing that joy with us." It was the perfect near end to a perfect night of good ol' fashioned rock n roll.
The next evening, on the 17th, we turned the wheel north and headed for the 'burbs of Detroit and ended up in Royal Oak for Brand New and opening sets from Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine. The Royal Oak Theatre looked like the Embassy from outside, but inside it was more a hybrid of that theatre and The Vogue.
The floor was broken up into three staggered layers and was broken up by railings and two bar areas. The section closest to the stage was packed with an undulating sea of teenagers anxious to crowd surf and recreate the moves they had perfected at the local pool all those summers ago. After worthwhile but clearly unnecessary performances (aside from the 'fit as many members from all the bands performing on stage' rendition of Neutral Milk Hotel's 'Holland 1945,' which was clearly lost on the majority of those attending, during Kevin Devine's set) Jesse Lacey (guitar and lead vocals), Vin Accardi (guitar and vocals), Garrett Tierney (bass) and Brian Lane (drums) kicked the show off full force with 'Seventy Times 7,' after Lacey treated the crowd to a solo rendition of the band's first single, 'Jude Law and the Semester Abroad.'
After a few more classic tracks from "Your Favorite Weapon," the band dove headfirst into a performance of their sophomore album, "Deja Entendu." Hearing songs such as 'I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light' and 'Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't' live gave the lyrics, 'Watch me as I cut myself wide open on this stage, yes, I am paid to spill my guts' and 'this is the way you wished your voice sounds,' new meaning. Lacey introduced 'The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot' with the story of how his father made him practice dribbling a basketball with his left and right hand for a half hour each every evening while growing up, yet never had him practice jump shots. Realizing that those early days probably led to future insecurities and trouble with women got poured into the crowd favorite and Lacey kept most of the other inspirations for his songs to himself for the rest of the night. After a haunting version of 'Play Crack the Sky,' the band took a short break and then came back to attack their instruments for a handful of songs off of last year's "The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me."
Kicking off with “Welcome to Bangkok” seemed like an odd choice given that it's an instrumental, but it was clearly the perfect choice in order to gradually build the stage and crowd back up to a boiling frenzy. It worked perfectly and by the time they jolted things into high gear with 'Sowing Season' there was little question there was no better place to be that night. Four songs later they were ready to bring the house down with a scathing version of “You Won't Know” complete with Accardi throwing his guitar into his amp before walking off stage with Tierney and Lane in tow, leaving Lacey to belt out those three words over and over while baptized in red light until his throat was little more than a crackle and whisper.
When I woke up Sunday I knew that if I never saw another rock n roll band live again I wouldn't mind.