It’s kind of appropriate that The Hold Steady land in Dublin on a Saturday night.
The US band’s uncomplicated classic rock and lyrical themes act as both a paean and a celebration of boozy nights out filled with old-fashioned social interaction. What we all did, say, in the 1990s. They have songs that allude to this: ‘Massive Nights’, ‘The Weekenders’ and ‘Sequestered In Memphis’ – a tale of a great night gone wrong – all of which get an outing tonight. Craig Finn – the bespectacled, feverishly animated front man with the Brooklyn-based five-piece refers to this shifting social paradigm early in the gig. He appreciates the effort we made to come out to see them, as nights like these will become rarer, smaller, and less important in coming years. Like a sizeable chunk of the audience, Finn and his band are of a vintage that remembers real human interaction, back when Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat weren’t even proper words and Twitter was what birds did. In a way, it’s already happening – the Academy is only about two thirds full.
But no one seems to mind and, for now at least, the band are determined to party like it’s 1999. There’s a sense with opener ‘I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You’ that we are in for a night when the foot will rarely be taken off the pedal. And why not? Life is too short for a potential mid-set dip in momentum. There are a few tracks from recent sixth album Teeth Dreams but the biggest cheers are reserved for older cuts like the aforementioned ‘Sequestered in Memphis’, ‘Stuck Between Stations’ and ‘Constructive Summer’. They churn out a generous twenty songs or so in quick succession, smoothly segueing from one to another like a great mixtape, ending with a rabble-rousing and appropriate ‘Stay Positive’. There’s no studied cool here, just unfussy rock ‘n’ roll played with joy and without pretense.
The encore ends with a boisterous cover of ‘American Music’ by the Violent Femmes where they are joined by support act the So So Glos, one last sing-along before closing time. It all feels like a defiant party, a fight against irrelevancy, ageing and disruptive technology. Many in the audience will trundle on home to tweet that the Hold Steady are still one of the great live acts around. The band, though, will undoubtedly settle into a pub somewhere for a potential lost night in Dublin, providing Finn with lyrical fodder for the next album. Long may they party.