Review: The Hold Steady @ Croxton Bandroom (Melbourne)

The Hold Steady at Croxton Bandroom (Melbourne) on 24 May, 2024 - image © Mark Ireland
Bron is a Melbourne-based science journalist who loves to return 'home' to a band room any chance she gets. She has 25 years' experience and has worked for Rolling Stone, Blunt, The Sydney Morning Herald, JUICE and many more.

You have to hand it to Craig Finn and The Hold Steady.

At time in life when this reviewer is finding it increasingly harder to back up and attend gigs on consecutive nights, The Hold Steady not only played Friday and this Saturday (25 May), but treated VIP fans to a Saturday afternoon mini-soundcheck gig and then played once more on Sunday evening at Stay Gold.

However, it's no surprise the Brooklyn-based band are happy to pull out all the stops for a big 'weekender' destination event in Australia.

The country has long been a happy hunting ground for them, ever since they toured their first record here nearly two decades ago and were shocked by the passionate fan base they found, having never played a gig here before.

The Hold Steady.2
Image © Mark Ireland

Tonight's show on a cold, not-quite-but-feeling-it winter night most certainly had its fair share of fans who were there from the start, 21 years ago – and it also most certainly had people who'd forged friendships through the band (helped in part by this Weekender concept, a three-day festival of sorts but with just one band playing; The Hold Steady did the first one here in 2022 where they set up shop at The Corner Hotel for a long-weekend party).

In that sense it felt like a bit of a reunion – and it no doubt was one for many in this Hold Steady 'community' meeting up for the big weekend – though this time they'd brought the party to the Croxton, a long, dark venue that doesn't always foster the natural togetherness of a room like The Corner.

No one on the dance-floor looked to be pondering this, though, when frontman Finn and the rest of the band walked out with a spring in their step just after 9pm and tore through an epic 26-song set that drew from all parts of their nine-album catalogue.

Naturally, no show was going to be the same, and they came out swinging, launching into 'Stuck Between Stations', the opener to their third album, 2006's 'Boys And Girls In America'.

The acclaimed album featured prominently, with The Hold Steady rolling out single 'Chips Ahoy!', 'You Can Make Him Like You', 'Massive Nights', 'Hot Soft Light’ and encore opener 'Citrus'.

The Hold Steady.3
Image © Mark Ireland

It was definitely a night for the long-time fans, with the absolute treat of a run of tunes from their killer 2004 debut, 'Almost Killed Me'. In fact, playing a couple of these right up front – 'The Swish' and 'Barfruit Blues' – let everyone know what kind of night it would be.

After a couple of typically rollicking, rapid-fire songs, Finn stopped to say a few words: "Second night! We're blessed to be at the Croxton. . . one of the greatest clubs in the whole world, at least what we've seen." Come on Craig, that's about as true as the street it's on – High Street – recently being named coolest street in the world, but we'll forgive you.

Pleasingly, the band's second album, 2005's 'Separation Sunday' – which was the record that saw The Hold Steady really find their Aussie fan base – also featured strongly, with (of course) 'Your Little Hoodrat Friend', 'Stevie Nix' and 'Crucifixion Cruise' among the standouts.

Other highlights were 'Sequestered In Memphis', a highlight from 2008's 'Stay Positive', and a very fitting finale in 'Killer Parties', the last song from that stellar debut album.

Tonight had quite a different feel from the last Hold Steady Weekender. In May 2022, Melbourne had only months earlier emerged hesitantly from its final lockdown, the Omicron wave was finally dying down and we saw the return of no-capacity-limit international gigs.

The Hold Steady.4
Image © Mark Ireland

It felt so good to be out, supporting a scene that had done it incredibly tough for two years. For plenty of punters, those Hold Steady shows were their first back in the same room as an international act for more than two years.

In May 2024, the music scene is still doing it tough – but instead of the virus, it's the plague of late-stage capitalism, which has seen a lot of punters forgoing gig tickets in order to, you know, eat and pay rent.

With the cost of staging tours also only increasing, inevitable high ticket prices have meant that seeing international acts is now a 'luxury' that, for many, has gone from a semi-regular pastime to a 'sometimes' treat.

For The Hold Steady fans, who made the big investment for the (admittedly quite reasonably priced) three-day tickets, at least you know you got one hell of a 'sometimes' treat.

More photos from the Friday concert.

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