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all (wintersleep) photos: Sally Simms

When the eccentric keyboardist Franz Nicolay left The Hold Steady in January lines were drawn in the sand and fans of the band were split into two camps: those who prefer the Brooklyn outfit with or without the mustachioed musician.

When The Hold Steady’s fifth record Heaven Is Whenever dropped in May, it was a flawed record and generally panned by critics that have praised them since the beginning. But it showed a band in transition. Monday night was my first experience with the new line-up, which now has two-and-a-half guitars (Craig Finn’s occasional strum doesn’t really count) and the keys have been pushed to the back of the stage and in the mix.

Even with all the changes, it was still more of the same Monday night: they tore the roof off the place. It wasn’t the tightest I’ve seen the band, but the lows (the piano solo on “Stevie Nix” and “Rock Problems” in particular) were definitely obliterated by the highs (the guitar solo on “Lord, I’m Discouraged”, “First Night” and the poorly timed confetti explosion — an A for effort, guys — during “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”).

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The band took a few chances and front-loaded their set with standouts “Stuck Between Stations” and “Chips Ahoy!” to showcase deeper cuts from 2005’s Separation Sunday — “Stevie Nix”, “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”. It pleased the hardcore fans, but the general mood of Monday’s show was pretty reserved compared to the last time they were in town. You still had the fists in the air, clapping and some jumping but last year it was hard to find someone that wasn’t sore the next day.

That said, the crowd picked up during the encore when the sextet rattled off “Constructive Summer”, “Hot Soft Light”, Sequestered In Memphis” and “Stay Positive”, capping off a strong return the District.

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Nova Scotia’s Wintersleep play a cocktail of music you’ve undoubtedly heard before, but in a way that’s uniquely their own. Throughout their 45-minute set I kept hearing R.E.M., but it really depends on the song. Using their allotted time to play mostly from their more recent albums including this year’s New Inheritors, but they won the crowd over with their 2008 single “Weighty Ghost”, a jaunty acoustic guitar driven number. In the end it was definitely pleasant, but not memorable.

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