The Hold Steady/Art Brut; Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Rhode Island Sunday, October 21
The NME Rock’N’Roll Riot Tour heads stateside for a wordy love-in of style
singalongs and big bellies
Sunday night in Providence, Rhode Island, and the streets of this small northeastern US city are a ghost town. Everyone’s either at home or, more likely, in a bar glued to the vital Boston Red Sox Vs Cleveland Indians baseball World Series qualifier. At a fabulously shabby venue downtown, though, where vintage chandeliers dangle alongside giant glittering mirror balls there is a definite buzz. This is a stage that has hosted the Ramones, The Stooges and The Stranglers in the past, and now The Hold Steady and Art Brut are preparing for the opening night of the US leg of the NME Rock’N’Roll Riot Tour. It’s part of a sojourn that will see both bands take in every major North American city over the next month.
Maybe it’s because they’ve both got unlikely, pot-bellied, prolific lyricists as frontmen; maybe it’s because the delivery of said lyrics frequently borders on the spoken word. Whatever: these two bands touring together feels like the most natural, obvious road trip in the world. Both of them are all about the delivery of The Message. Yes it’s sometimes funny and always entertaining, but the core appeal here is that it’s real – and that is why fans of both these bands feel a very genuine affinity with their heroes.
As Art Brut take to the stage, a shoeless Eddie Argos promises, “Rhode Island. Woo-hoo! We’ve got a message for you,” as he readies for ‘Bad Weekend’, and its refrain that “popular culture no longer applies to me”. Baby-faced, blue-eyed, blond guitarist Jasper Future struts around like a wide-eyed ostrich going through shock therapy, while drummer Mike Breyer stridess behind his kit, shrugging off the myriad technical problems going on around him. And Eddie? Eddie delivers his common everyday-problem lyrics as if they’re off the cuff, rather than something he performs every single night after his tea. His ambling stage antics occasionally explode into some energetic skipping using the mic lead as a rope, after confessing that he’s high on sweetened apple juice. Eddie makes his nightly excursion into the crowd during ‘Modern Art’ to pogo off his sugar high, and while he may often like to give the impression he’s ad-libbing his way through the show, he’s shrewd enough to omit some of the lyrics to ‘Formed A Band’ (“Yes, this IS my singing voice”). Judging by the many attempts to bellow along with their ringleader, it’s clear most here tonight are already aware of the information it contains.
Crowd numbers are beefed up to capacity by the time The Hold Steady emerge, straight from their first-ever tour bus parked outside. It’s only when you put these two bands back-to-back that it becomes apparent just how alike Craig Finn and Eddie Argos actually are – Craig’s commentary on the hardship of drink, drugs and relationships in America being the counterpart to Eddie’s wry British look at sexual stage fright and unrequited love.
To every person in this diversely-aged audience, it’s as though The Hold Steady frontman is addressing them individually. And he is. Singing ‘Banging Camp’ and ‘Hot Soft Light’ his toes curl over the stage’s edge as he psyches up the crowd, his intense gestures getting the message across loud and clear. His evangelical palms held skyward, he’s like the saviour of rock’n’roll and his rapturous crowd lap it up, fist-pumping and “oh-oh-ooh”ing their way through ‘Massive Nights’.
“You’re drunk!” someone yells as the Steady launch into ‘Chillout Tents’, and although he mutters an indecipherable response, Craig’s earnest expressions still animate the lyrics of ‘You Can Make Him Like You’, as he slumps his shoulders despondently and sings, “They say you don’t have a problem until you start to do it alone/They say you don’t have a problem until you start bringing it home”.
As with Art Brut before them, the other members of The Hold Steady are as vivacious and occasionally as individually engaging as their frontman. Franz Nicolay’s gypsy ’tache and silent movie-style skip-dance adds as much to the set as his keyboard parts and harmonica solos; guitarist Tad Kubler’s ‘Southtown Girls’ riffs inspire a stadium rock clap-a-thon that could rival the rock majesty of Queen.
Seeing both The Hold Steady and Art Brut in one night leaves you feeling like you’ve had a dictionary for dinner and a thesaurus for dessert – the icing on the show’s cake being the music and the ardent energy apparent throughout.
It’s a delicious, decadent trip, and if tonight is anything to go by, the US NME Rock’N’Roll Riot Tour is going to be as thrilling a ride as its British counterpart.