From the unusually frigid outdoor gig at a renowned local brewery to the two abnormally packed shows in the city’s best-known small rock club, the Hold Steady had the most Minneapolitan weekend ever for a band not actually from Minneapolis.
The New York-based rockers made up for a four-year lull between Twin Cities gigs by settling in for two days and three performances — ones that will probably be remembered by their fans for years to come.
First came a Saturday night headlining set at Surly Brewing’s answer to beer-tent Bavarian parties, SurlyFest, where the 40-degree weather did nothing to temper the rowdiness. On the contrary, there was a flannel-warm, Minnesota-proud vibe reminiscent of the Hold Steady’s last show in town in 2014, opening for the Replacements at Midway Stadium under similarly unseasonable weather.
On Sunday, the band moved over to the 250-person 7th St. Entry for the first time in its 15-year history, where it played two back-to-back, elbow-to-elbow concerts starting with an all-ages matinee set. The nighttime show was so packed, fans were loath to push their way to the bar for another drink once the show started; which is really saying something in the case of a Hold Steady crowd.
There was a big difference between the two settings. Otherwise, the band did not mix up its set lists a whole lot aside from song order.
Edina-reared frontman Craig Finn even offered some of the same stage banter, talking about how people from all over the world recognize the symbolism in his songs’ many geographic references — from Lyndale Avenue and I-494 to City Center and Southtown Mall — even if they don’t know their exact locations.
“But you guys are in a very perfect position to understand what I’m saying,” he added Saturday night.
The SurlyFest show kicked off perfectly with “Stuck Between Stations,” which referenced the nearby Mississippi River and University of Minnesota.
The ultimate localization of lyrics came a few songs later, when Finn held up a square patch of ungodly ugly carpet someone had presented to him earlier in the day. A setup for the ’70s-seedy rocker “Stevie Nix,” the germy relic had come from the old Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington.
Saturday’s set was tighter, steadier and more of an all-around crowd pleaser. Anthemic favorites such as “Constructive Summer” and “Chips Ahoy!” were intermittently dropped into the lineup before a full-gallop run near the end that included “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and “Massive Nights.” Then the early nugget “Hornets! Hornets!” jubilantly kicked off the encore.
The latter tune opened Sunday’s late show, which boasted several more deeper cuts such as “Yeah Sapphire” and “Sweet Part of the City.” A melodic slow-burner, “Sweet Part” featured smoldering slide work by guitarist Tad Kubler. Two new songs (issued as singles) also spiked the second Entry gig, “Star 18” and the Thin Lizzy-like roller “Stove and Toaster,” which spotlighted pianist Franz Nicolay’s return to the group.
By the end of the nearly two-hour finale Sunday, the band members — who haven’t done a full tour in four years — understandably seemed tired. But they still seemed to be having as much fun as the crowd, which included people from as far away as England who came specifically to see the Hold Steady in Minneapolis. Those nomadic mega-fans certainly got a good taste of the sweet parts of the city.