DS Photo Gallery: The Hold Steady bring their 20th-anniversary celebration to Boston’s Roadrunner…with Dinosaur Jr.!

There’s a thing that happens when you grow up in a music-appreciating household and then you reach middle school or junior high or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods and discover a new band or a scene that becomes YOURS. They’re generally a generation or so older than you – or at least 10-ish years or so but it just SEEMS like a generation when you’re 13. They’re not your parents’ music – and in fact are probably a rebellion to your parents’ music – and they aren’t little kid music or cheesy pop music, but they become YOURS and they teach you about life and growing up and all sorts of things that seem so cool and almost mystical when you’re a youngster and they serve as the riverbed for whatever scene’s waters you end up dipping your toes into.

But then there’s another thing that happens when you’re in, say, your mid-twenties and you discover a new band. They’re still maybe a handful of years older than you, and they somehow take the musical influences of your parents – which really weren’t that bad or worthy of rebelling against at all – and some of those musical influences from the first bands that you fell in love with and it becomes something that’s new and different and it impacts you on a personal level because they provide a roadmap for a lot of the things that you have been through and will go through in this thing called “adulthood,” and so you have similar experiences and reference points. For the duration of my adulthood, the alpha and the omega of that latter phenomenon has consisted of two bands (with, coincidentally, an overlapping band member in their collective history): Lucero and The Hold Steady. The former celebrated their 25th birthday last month, and the latter are in the midst of celebrating two decades as a band throughout this year with a series of one-offs and weekenders at a variety of locations both at home and abroad.

The two- and three- and four-day weekender that’s been part and parcel of the last half-dozen years of The Hold Steady’s touring schedule was eschewed for the Boston stop on this particular “run.” Instead, the six-piece (frontman and occasional guitarist Craig Finn, dueling lead guitarists Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge, keyboard/multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay, bass player Galen Polivka and drummer Bobby Drake) chose to use this stop for what I’m pretty sure is their largest one-day area headliner to date. It was held at the sparkly new Roadrunner music hall in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood (more specifically in the newly-christened Boston Landing neighborhood, which is also home to the sparkly-new practice facilities for the Bruins and the Celtics and a sparkly-new and giant New Balance flagship building). The sweet part of the city it’s not, necessarily; but obvious grievances about gentrification and the loss of smaller and especially independent music venues in a theoretically world-class music city aside…Roadrunner is a pretty sweet venue. Still, that’s all a topic for another time.

Set to the musical backdrop of the thematically-appropriate Boston classic, “Rock And Roll Band,” the band took to the stage at Roadrunner at about quarter-til-ten and, after a brief introduction, ripped right into the opening chords of “Constructive Summer” from their 2008 album Stay Positive, which happens to be the album that vaulted THS into my own personal stratosphere. The song and its theme of hope and of collective positivity served as an ideal segue into the festivities that would come over the next hour-and-forty-five-minutes or so. Two dozen songs followed, representing seven of the band’s nine studio albums – no love for the underrated duo of hiatus bookend albums, Heaven Is Whenever (2010) and Teeth Dreams (2014) on this particular night.

It would be a little too on-the-nose to say that a Hold Steady headlining performance is what a resurrection feels like, but I’m not sure the fact that the reference is on-the-nose makes it untrue. When the band launches into the familiar opening notes of longtime crowd favorites like “Sequestered In Memphis” or “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” or “Massive Nights,” the crowd takes on a celebratory, almost spiritual tone, a sort of mutual catharsis, really. Enigmatic Craig Finn leads the show in his traditional, chaotic manner that evokes notes of both a hardcore band frontman and an exuberant preacher leading the flock during a Sunday sermon. Nicolay and Kubler flank the stage adorned in shirts and ties and jackets and, in the former’s case, a bowler hat that I can only describe as “spiffy.” Selvidge and Polivka both ooze a sort of rock and roll that combines 70s swagger with mid-Gen X shrug. Bobby Drake is about as rock-steady and, for my money, underrated as you can get behind the drum set in this scene, effortlessly bracing the changing tempos and swirling guitars and keys and extended, celebratory jams.

The Hold Steady released their ninth album, The Price Of Progress, earlier this year, and the new tracks that found their respective ways into the setlist for this gig were equally well-received, particularly “Carlos Is Crying,” which is a song that I think I called “the most Hold Steadyish song on the record” when I reviewed the album back in March. While I’d certainly call The Hold Steady a rock-and-roll band for lack of a better and more finely-tuned descriptor, it’s easy to tell that many of the bands members grew up on the punk rock and hardcore scenes of the 1980s (and not just when Mosh Pit Josh assumes co-frontman duties for the breakdown of “Stay Positive,” the main set’s penultimate song).

The four-song encore was a compilation of a bunch of old-school THS songs that continued the revelatory nature of the evening. Lead guitarist (co-lead guitarist?) Tad Kubler brought out the double-neck Gibson SG that you see pictured there on the right for “Lord, I’m Discouraged” and the first verse of “Banging Camp” before trading it out for his more traditional 345. “Chips Ahoy” and of course “Killer Parties” closed out the evening, the latter with an extended jam that seemed to indicate a reluctance to actually leave the stage and bring the celebration to a close. On this night, as with on many nights dating back over the course of the last twenty years, we were, indeed, all the Hold Steady.

Massachusetts’-own alternative rock legends Dinosaur Jr. served played a 75-minute direct support set. THS frontman Craig Finn, who was notably raised in Minnesota but was born a stone’s throw from Roadrunner at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and returned to the area for four years as a student at Boston College in nearby Brookline, told a story of mountain biking down to Newbury comics to by Dino’s 1991 classic Green Mind the day it came out, so it made perfect sense for the local trio to play an extended support spot on such an occasion. The trio opened with “Thumb” from that very same Green Mind album and proceeded to steamroll through a sixteen-song set that represented most-if-not-all corners of their nearly 40-year career as a band. A Dinosaur Jr. set really is a sonic assault in the best possible way, a tsunami of sound emanating from frontman J Mascis’ wall of Marshall full stack cabinets adorned in vintage Marshall Super Bass and Hiwatt heads.

Somehow Lou Barlow’s ‘lead bass’ attack still finds a way to carve out its own space in the mix, which is no easy feat. Murph’s razor-sharp drumming provides at least a semblance of structure to the whole onslaught, particularly useful during Mascis’ epic, fuzzed-out solo wanderings. Getting J and Lou to switch instruments and have the latter take over both guitar and lead vocal duties for “Garden” from 2021’s Sweep It Into Space was a particular highlight of the three songs that the four or five of us in the spacious photo pit got to shoot to kick off the set. A later highlight occurred when the trio was joined by Scott Helland on bass for a “cover” of the Deep Wound song “Training Ground.” For the uninitiated, Deep Wound was a pre-Dino (so, very early 80s) western Massachusetts hardcore band that featured Mascis on drums, Barlow on guitar, Helland on bass and Charlie Nakajima on vocals.

Apologies go out to Come, the local alternative rock icons who played the role of lead opener on the three-band bill on this night. Due to a combination of Mother’s Day festivities, traffic, and being unfamiliar with the area, we missed the photo-pit portion of the band’s set. Check out more shots from the Dino and THS sets below!

The Hold Steady Slideshow!

Dinosaur Jr. Slideshow!

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