As I alluded to briefly a while back, The Hold Steady played in Louisville on December 9, and by a happy coincidence, I was in town for work that very weekend. The show was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, but while there's little I can fault about the show, it was not the exhilarating experience I'd hoped. The biggest reason for this was that I was just too tired to fully enjoy it: I'd been conferencing for two days already, my arthritis was majorly acting up (thanks to my boneheaded decision to walk from downtown out to Headliners, which seems to be in some sort of outlying industrial district), and I just don't have the stamina for those midnight start times that are a point of pride among the indie hipster set (the two abysmal opening bands I endured to get to that midnight start didn't help either).
But while I'll chalk much of my disappointment up to my own fatigue, it occurred to me that The Hold Steady may just not be ideally suited to live performance. The linchpin of the act is Craig Finn's vocals, of course, and these suffer doubly in the live setting. First, music club sound mixing is almost always unkind to vocalists (unless they have Erika Wennerstrom-esque pipes and can blast their way through regardless). Second, Hold Steady songs are so densely packed, lyrically, that FInn and the band have to be absolutely tight or the verbiage starts to spill over the sides of the song. Studio albums provide the luxury of re-doing a song until it's right, but live you only have one shot, and the Hold Steady certainly don't give themselves much leeway (or perhaps I wasn't inclined to give them much leeway, for the reasons cited above).
There were a few saving graces of the evening, however. I bought their first CD, Almost Killed Me (2004), at the show, and my wanderings en route also took me past a used record store, where I picked up a few other interesting albums (all of which I'll cover when I finally file my belated 'Acquisitions' report for December). I'm not unhappy I went, but I guess I need to start taking a nap before late shows or something.