The Hold Steady, Art Brut and the 1990s – 11.20.07, The 9:30 Club, Washington DC and 11.21.07, Terminal Five, NYC
The 1990s have just completed their set and thrown their set list (written on a paper plate) into the crowd of Washington DC’s The 9:30 Club. A group of three girls directly in front of me have caught the plate and are currently giggling over their newly acquired treasure.
I’m given cause to wonder if the girls are even there to see the 1990s but rather to see the better known acts Art Brut and/or The Hold Steady instead. It is certain that for most of the audience the latter is the case.
It is no matter because the 1990s are rock solid. Singer/guitarist Jackie McKeown even manages to recover from having his fly down for the entire first song. Where many of the 1990s songs on their debut album, Cookies, sounded poppy, in their live incarnations, the songs take on a grittier, garage-rock sound. Even weaker songs like “Weed” prove to be compelling when played live. McKeown’s solo style, the centerpiece in the live rendition of “Weed”, is organic and dirty, perfectly suited to the band’s music. Drummer Michael McGaughrin’s strained backing vocals add additional richness to the songs. Frequently running out of breath, McGaughrin jokes with the audience after most every song. At one point McKeown remarks that the band must truly be a mesmerizing live act to a man directly in front of him who is talking on his cell phone. McKeown asks the man who he is talking to, and he replies “Taylor”. McKeown is sure not to forget Taylor, and when the band plays “You’re Supposed To Be My Friend”, he cleverly makes allusion to the cell-phone conversation in the lyrics. The standout song of the night, though, is “Situation”, which the band introduces as their last number. Before starting the song, they modify the statement by adding that the crowd needn’t worry because the song is a long one. Played live, “Situation” evokes an underlying darkness only hinted at on the album.