The Hold Steady make me smile. And for 90 minutes Saturday night, the rest of the 250 party people who packed The Social in downtown Orlando were smiling, too. And who could blame them? Frontman Craig Finn shimmied, shook and sashayed on stage, only stopping long enough in between songs to soak up applause from a riled up group of fist-pumping supporters.
The band, which released its fifth album Heaven is Whenever on May 4, played back-to-back shows Saturday and Sunday last weekend.
I was among the revelers Saturday night, my third Hold Steady show in three years, and second time seeing the Brooklyn-based band at The Social. Energy and crowd support have never been an issue with The Hold Steady. Finn and his bandmates ooze electricity and play their hard-charging songs with the urgency of a boy about to get his first kiss.
But while the band continues to pump out powerful music, their sound and style is evolving. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay, he of curly mustache fame who was always given prime real estate on stage and added spunk and swagger to the band, left The Hold Steady in January to pursue other musical ventures. Also absent Saturday night was the bottle of whiskey and case of Budweiser that accompanied the band on-stage the last time I saw them at The Social in 2007. Instead, the band opted for bottles of water and Dixie cups filled with unknown contents.
The Hold Steady focused much of its set on tracks from Heaven is Whenever and 2008 release Stay Positive, but still dove into favorites “Cattle and the Creeping Things” and “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” off 2005 album Separation Sunday and “Stuck Between Stations” and “Southtown Girls” off 2006 release Boys and Girls in America.
Finn didn’t chat much between songs, saving his energy instead for connecting with the audience. With sweat dripping from his face, Finn repeatedly reached out his arms to the nearly all-male contingent fronting the stage imploring them to continue to sing at the top of their collective lungs. If non-verbal communication could have been measured on a Richter Scale, Finn would have been well above a 6.2.
I, on the other hand, was perfectly content sipping a bottled beer from a cozy spot near the bar, soaking in another splendid performance from a band that never disappoints.
The smile never left my face.
** Thanks to Dan Mirocha, friend of Pulse of Central Florida and Managing Editor of Golfweek.com, for this guest post.**