CAMBRIDGE — Seven albums and 1½ decades since their debut, the Hold Steady are too old to be the characters in their songs, messy riffraff screwed up by cheap drugs and Catholicism in equal measure. But that’s fine, because they were always too old to be the characters in their songs, even back then. Perhaps that’s why, when they took the Sinclair stage on Thursday for the sold-out first night of a four-night residency, time hadn’t dulled the band’s power. The distance may have grown in the intervening years, but the perspective remains the same.
The Hold Steady’s not a band that uses three guitars for the purpose of each taking a different angle on the song. Instead, save the occasional solo, they all lock together for expanded heft and impact, and nearly every song surged, right from the moment that the guitars, keyboard, bass, and drums all fused together in one rolling, hard-charging fist-raise with the opening “Constructive Summer.” The fistful of confetti that burst into the air from the crowd as it shifted into the full, huge widescreen of the final chorus of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” seemed like the song willed it into being.
The other component of the band’s patented rant-and-roar was vocalist Craig Finn, who was spitting out his torrent of words as though “Stuck Between Stations” wasn’t pouring from his mouth for the 500th time (give or take). Instead, they still seemed like they were tumbling out as he thought of them, and his body language remained an uninterrupted series of genial twitches. Finn reached out to the crowd, shook his arms in any number of directions, and generally made as though he was in the thrall of the rock ’n’ roll his band was making behind him.
While there were plenty of the full-bore, (not so) simple rock anthems that have been the band’s stock in trade, from the sing- and clap-along “Sequestered in Memphis” to the shuddering “Stevie Nix” (“Sweet Emotion” turned inside out), the Hold Steady showed off some versatility here and there. “T-Shirt Tux” was built on harmony guitars and beach-party organ, while “One for the Cutters” combined a harpsichord tinkle with big half-time guitars. And there was enough space left in “Blackout Sam” — driven by Franz Nicolay’s keyboards and Galen Polivka’s bass, with a slow drumbeat and light Southern soul guitar accompaniment — that it was practically the Hold Steady’s prom theme. And longtime show closer “Killer Parties” let Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge’s atmospheric guitars explore independently, a loose comedown from one massive night with three still left to go.
Aptly-named Brooklyn four-piece Early Riser opened with zippy, sugary-sweet indie pop (complete with cello) that was buoyant but slight.
The Hold Steady
With Early Riser
At the Sinclair, Cambridge, Sept. 12