The Hold Steady
The Big Sleep
Orlando, Fl • Nov. 29, 2006
The Hold Steady are in part known for the copious amounts of alcohol they consume onstage during every performance. How much alcohol can they actually get through in an hour and change? As I asked myself this, I watched roadies walk two cases of beer and large bottles of Jack Daniels onto the stage before the band’s set. Not bad for a band of middle-aged men playing Indie Americana.
A Brooklyn three-piece called The Big Sleep opened the show after an early set by local band, The Sugar Oaks. The Big Sleep are mostly instrumental, but when the vocals pop in they alternate between the male voice of guitarist Danny Barria and that of breathy female bassist Sonya Balchandani. While I usually require a strong vocal presence in my enjoyment of a live show, with this band I hardly noticed the singing. Their abilities to create an atmosphere with their instruments was so intense that I stood mesmerized.
Part of what really hooked me was Barria’s ability to cultivate mannerisms eerily similar to Jack White yet sound absolutely nothing like The White Stripes or The Raconteurs. Sure the influences could be traced back to some of the same places (Led Zeppelin, MC5), but Barria’s sound is also heavily layered in psychadelic shapes and big metal tones. So impassioned was this band’s style of playing that they can make a simple three-chord tune sound complex. I wasn’t the only one wooed by their performance, the crowd was heavily applauding and inching closer to the stage a song or two into their set.
Once The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn hit the stage he had a smile from ear to ear that never faltered. The band’s personality onstage is somewhere between the goofiness of NOFX, the hippy “smoke another one” of Phish and the good time party vibe of the Barenaked Ladies. The band’s audience, at least in Orlando, largely consists of college to middle-aged men who are ready to drink and sing along with every song. The music is Springsteen-esque in its good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll style, but indie in its loose approach. Songs like “Chips Ahoy,” about unrequited love and getting high, are a huge success with this crowd.
From the first moments onstage the band set out to throw a party. Bassist Galen Polivka threw dollar bills into the crowd until a fan yelled, “Throw some cigarettes!” and then the cigs began to pepper the air. While Polivka was tossing out goodies, and Finn was laughing between hoots and hollers, guitarist Tad Kubler took big chugs from his Motley Crue-sized bottle of JD. They managed to play some remarkably tight-sounding music during all of this, but no matter how much personality The Hold Steady could muster they weren’t quite able to wipe away the memorable after image of The Big Sleep.
To see more photos of this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.