Minneapolis seemed tired last night. Only about a three-quarters-full crowd turned out for the second night of the Hold Steady’s two-night stand at First Avenue (the first show sold out), and the room didn’t appear to fully wake up until about halfway through the show. Even “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” -- which arrived nine songs into the 105-minute set -- didn’t rouse the audience the way it usually does. That might’ve not been the fault of the holiday hangover, though, and had more to do with the noodly, three-guitar interlude dropped into the middle of the song, underlining how six-string-heavy the quintet has become since the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay and addition of third axman Steve Selvidge.
“Ten years ago, we started this band,” Craig Finn interjected during the “Hoodrat” breakdown, going into detail about how “miserable” he was living in New York after 9/11 and the demise of his earlier group, Lifter Puller (the Hold Steady being his cure). He smirkingly added, “And 10 years ago, I never thought we’d be doing an Allman Brothers kind of jam like that.”
Looking toward to the next decade, the band tried out four new songs from the sessions for its next album, which also explained the relatively laid-back audience reaction in the first half of the show. The newbies sounded a bit more somber and melodic than typical Hold Steady fare, save for the grinding, Zeppeliny rocker “Look Alive.” Finn said of “Records and Tapes,” another new one, “It’s about the first two things I fell in love with.” As always, the Edina-reared frontman -- who showed up at First Ave two nights earlier to deliver “Skyway” during the Replacements tribute -- also shared his fondness for the venue: “This is the very room where I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll. And I fell hard.”
The room eventually reciprocated on the love. “Rock Problems,” the highlight of 2010’s “Heaven Is Whenever,” proved to be a new fan favorite. “Stevie Nix” -- one of six tracks plucked from 2005’s “Separation Sunday” on Sunday -- added to the mid-show momentum. By the time the guys got to “Southtown Girls” and “Chips Ahoy!,” the usual Hold Steady fervor and adrenaline took hold and didn’t waver from there on out. They didn’t have ‘em at hello, but the show did lead up to a helluva terrific goodbye. Here’s the full set list:
Hornets! Hornets! / Cattle & the Creeping Things / unknown new song / Constructive Summer / You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With) / Girls Like Status / Look Alive (new song) / Your Little Hoodrat Friend / Sweet Part of the City / unknown new song / Rock Problems / You Can Make Him Like You / Stevie Nix / Records & Tapes (new song) / The Weekenders / Southtown Girls / Chips Ahoy! / Stuck Between Stations / Sequestered in Memphis / Hurricane J ENCORE: Massive Nights / Stay Positive / How a Resurrection Really Feels