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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Hold Steady @ U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, Summerfest

July 1, 2010

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With their forceful classic-rock riffage and affable stage presence, The Hold Steady has deservedly earned the title “world’s greatest bar band.” They're exactly the type of group that inspires you to lift a beer in appreciation and buy a round for the guys after the set. And don’t those same qualities make them Summerfest’s greatest band, too? Nothing's better than listening to loud music and drinking among friends during an evening along Lake Michigan at the Big Gig. What’s more, Craig Finn’s loose demeanor and the rest of the group's visceral sound make it seem as if they're playing a dive bar even when they’re, in fact, jamming at a crowded outdoor festival.

They kicked off their first Summerfest performance with a heavy rendition of the Stay Positive opening track "Constructive Summer." Any doubts that this show wouldn't amp up the volume (after disappointing levels at the U.S. Cellular stage earlier in the week) were quelled immediately. Finn sang lyrics with a devil-may-care attitude, ostensibly infatuated with his own one-liners yet in a way that seemed endearing rather than conceited. "Tonight's one of the nights where I feel like the luckiest guy in the world," Finn proclaimed in between songs, and believing him was easy. With Finn dancing around the stage and playfully inciting the guitarists into solo challenges, all signs pointed to this being one of the best nights of his life.

While The Hold Steady's latest record, Heaven Is Whenever, has been the most divisive album among fans, the group sold the few songs they played live—most notably, the lead track "The Sweet Part of the City," which yielded crowd praise after the repeating line, "We were bored so we started a band/We'd like to play for you." Although the night couldn't help but sound like a greatest-hits tour for the Midwestern natives, "Stuck Between Stations," "Stay Positive," "You Can Make Him Like You" and "Chips Ahoy!" all reverberated like classic-rock anthems from a relevant classic rock band. When's the last time Summerfest had one of those?

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