When the Hold Steady climbed on the Grog Shop's stage around midnight Monday, frontman Craig Finn greeted the rapturous audience with, "Where were you the first 4,000 times I played your city?" He had a point. The NYC-by-way-of-Minneapolis band has been to Cleveland a few times before. But since the release of its terrific third album, Boys and Girls in America
, a couple months ago, the quintet has been elevated to It-Band status by bloggers and music mags alike.
Finn's wild narratives -- stuffed with sex, drugs, and Catholic guilt -- work even better onstage. Looking less nerdy than usual (thanks to a hipster beard he's sporting these days), Finn played the crowd like some beer-fueled messiah. Between swigs from an ever-present bottle, he shared stories about growing up in Shaker Heights, recalled his first baseball game at the old stadium, and dedicated a song to former Browns Gregg Pruitt, Ozzie Newsome, and Brian Sipe.
The set included a generous sampling from all three of the Hold Steady's indie-rock-on-Springsteen albums. Fan faves like Boys and Girls
' "Stuck Between Stations," "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" from last year's Separation Sunday
, and "The Swish" from 2004's Almost Killed Me
were all included. Highlight: Finn's manic stage gestures -- most notably, his fondness for shouting what seemed like entire novel chapters out of microphone range.
More than 90 minutes after the concert started, a noticeably drunk and hoarse Finn led his bandmates and the crowd in a sing-along of "Southtown Girls," which was followed by three encores. Appropriately, by the time the show wound down with a woozy "Killer Parties," two dozen audience members were onstage with the band, fondling instruments and hugging an amused Finn, who looked like he was finally getting the Cleveland welcome he was hoping for. -- Michael Gallucci