On the face of it, Nova Scotians Wintersleep look like the ideal support act for the Hold Steady – checked shirts and baseball caps seem like standard uniform. But they’re far from a facsimile of their American brethren and play a far subtler brand of indie rock.
Despite winning a Juno award for their 2007 album Welcome to the Night Sky, their profile has remained low in the UK and last year’s New Inheritors has done little to change that. Pity.
Weighty Ghost from …Night Sky – the one song that’s got any kind of airplay here – is a delicate piece of uptempo alt.country and muscular newer numbers like Encyclopaedia and New Inheritors’ title track play to a crowd that warms to them as the set progresses.
They exit on a wall of distorted guitars and thumping drums from the gurning Loel Campbell. Hopefully the next time they play Scotland it’ll be on their own terms.
Then it’s the Hold Steady, who waste absolutely no time in smashing through a lengthy, ‘hit’-packed set. It’s relentless. Same Kooks, Hurricane J and Sequestered in Memphis are all belted out early to rousing cheers from a not-quite-full ABC.
Onstage banter is minimal but it’s hardly needed. Craig Finn’s freewheeling lyrics are in themselves almost banter anyway, and his engagement with the crowd is such that he manages to look just about every fan he can see in the eye at least once.
Things slow up a little for the Sweet Part of the City but it’s a momentary pause to allow both band and crowd to catch their breath. Before too long Finn is demanding we raise a glass to Saint Joe Strummer during Constructive Summer. “Get ‘em up!!” he roars and we duly oblige.
The band race towards the close and pack the finale with some absolute bangers – The Weekenders, Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Chips Ahoy, Stuck Between Stations… it’s at these moments in a band’s set that you click just precisely how many great songs they have up their sleeve – and the Hold Steady’s back catalogue is seriously intimidating.
As ever an extended version of Killer Parties rounds things off, a resounding finish to a night of some good old-fashioned rock and roll.