On the anniversary of Joey Ramone's passing, it was only fitting that I see the greatest band to come from New York City since The Ramones.
"Hi everyone! Thanks for coming, we have a few new changes to this band." As Craig Finn and his band walked on stage to the music of Sergio Leone, he set the tone right away that this is going to be a new Hold Steady experience. This was the very first New York show the New York band has played with their new line-up, a line-up that was missing keyboardist Franz Nicolay and his mustache but was replaced by Elliot Spitzer look-a-like Dan Neustadt and added additional guitarist Steve Selvidge, formerly of Lucero. It was the first of two secret shows that the band had on Saturday night, this was the primo event at Bowery Ballroom and the second would take place just over the bridge at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
So here they were, the new Hold Steady line up. As the band opened with "Positive Jam," and then going right into the new single "Hurricane J," and then into the classic live track "Cattle and the Creeping Things," it was the same songs and same band but something was different. Gone was the Greatful Dead sticker on Craig Finn's blue Fender that was covered by a 7 Seconds decal. Added were the tattoo's on Tad Kubler's arms and of course this new line up. They still rock, they are still the best live act you will get your moneys worth to see in a club, but in many ways it was different. A line-up and fresh band that I will have to get used to, don't get me wrong I had a total blast. But with Franz gone, who was such an intricate part to their live shows, it is like Rodger Water's leaving Pink Floyd only to have David Gilmore continue on. Granted unlike Water's this was never Franz's band, he was asked to join much later after they formed. However, it may take some time to get used it, but it was still a hell of a party.
It was hot and stuffy inside Bowery Ballroom and the audience was in full effect. People were crammed together right in the front and the beautiful thing was no one minded have each others sweat and spit on top of one another. It was also the first Hold Steady show I had gone to where Craig Finn was not slurring his words and holding on to his mic stand so he does not fall down. As the band ran through classic jams "Chip's Ahoy," "Stuck Between Stations," "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night," "Stay Positive," and others, a slew of new songs made their New York debut into the set. Songs from the band's upcoming Heaven is Whenever sound like very early Hold Steady, think Almost Killed Me / Separation Sunday era. They work really well into the set and once fans get more in tune to the new material it will be a flawless set from here on in.