I rolled up to the Beacon, locked up and headed in to find that there were tickets still available. Interesting. There had been little fanfare amongst the Unified Scene set about this show, and most of the front-end scuttlebutt had been about the odd choice of venue, high ticket price and lack of other shows in town behind Heaven Is Whenever. Call it lifestyle-related paranoia, but there is something going on with The Hold Steady. When you play two guerilla shows in town on the same day to push your new record, I can see the marketing draw, but when your only other announced hometown show in a venue like the Beacon, it makes me think that there is some image (or crowd) spin-doctoring going on. I have to think The Hold Steady are at the end of their Vagrant contract and dollars to donuts they will be moving on, I wonder if this is an attempt to ingratiate themselves to an older crowd that still buys cds. THS are shrewd business people, and lets not misinterpret this as JS-NYC saying THS are Kiss or anything, but there has to be a way to keep the lights on and not short their long-time local fanbase. The fact that the show wasn't sold out (the first time I've been aware in many NY shows) may speak to the fact that Franz moving on and odd show moves may be working against our heroes.
So I got to my seat to find that it was literally the last seat in the last row of the orchestra. It ended up being great sightline-wise, and the wall behind the seat meant there wasn't going to be any issue with my standing during the set. The gents were on by a little after ten, as I recall and played a great set, but I won't say it wasn't weird not being able to be up front packed in. Craig implored the crowd to ignore the seats, but security felt otherwise and it was an oddly restrained affair. Here's the set list:
All in all, this was a pretty good set, but this was the first Hold Steady show in the many shows I've seen them play where I left before it was over. Not that THS were bad, far from it, but the distance was a real issue and the stage is really empty with Franz not taking up stage right. Selvidge is a decent guitarist, but it is very obvious that in the Heaven Is Whenever era, he and keyboardist Dan Neustadt are definitely sidemen. The fact that the keys are now as far in the background as possible stage-wise (and in the new material) is very telling. Selvidge and Tad do a couple of harmonized solos that are ok, but nothing to write home about and do little to fill that big empty space on the right. After an hour I was checking Springsteen's Twitter on the phone and texting master of the odds Eric for the over/under on an unannounced arrival from The Boss legitimizing the choice of venue and my staying out late on a school night. Nothing seemed promising in that regard, and as such I bailed before the encore sated. Heaven Is Whenever is a solid record and The Hold Steady are definitely in the top tier of America's rock bands, but as 2010 draws to a close, I'm interested to see when the next show in-town is and even more intrigued to find how quickly I'm going to move to get tickets.