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Bands rock on despite chill at Canalside season opener

A few minutes into this summer’s first Thursday at Canalside concert, an announcer greeted the 20 or so people straggling around the harbor and said he anticipated a “small but mighty crowd” for the rest of the evening.

What gave that away? Oh, right – probably how most of Thursday was plagued with some of the harshest rain we’ve seen this season. Brooklyn’s much-loved rock ’n’ rollers The Hold Steady returned to Buffalo as the evening’s headliners, but the sad, soggy weather kept the city’s most famous summer concert series from completely reigniting. It seems that most of the city decided to just wait until next Thursday, and for most of the evening, the crowd remained so small that it could have fit into Mohawk Place, the now-defunct hole in the wall that hosted The Hold Steady years ago.

Although the rain was reduced to mere droplets by the time the music started, Canalside was left in a decidedly unfestive mood, with most of its green space turned into one giant puddle. As a result, the evening largely felt like a bizarro version of the average Thursday night concert. The crowd was a sea of umbrellas, rather than flickering iPhones. Fans were decked out in overcoats and winter hats rather than shorts and band T-shirts. More people were shivering than dancing. Even so, the die-hard Thursday concertgoers were undeterred, making this would-be celebration an unintentional display of Buffalo resilience.

Brian Long, who was one of the first four people standing against the front-row railing, said he didn’t worry about the weather. “Nothing’s gonna keep me from coming out,” he said.

Floyd Matthews, resting in one of Canalside’s colorful Adirondack chairs under an umbrella, shared that view, matter-of-factly stating that “music can overcome the elements” of nature.

Buffalo’s Johnny Nobody, a quartet of jeans-and-T-shirts barroom rockers, started the show. Seemingly unruffled by the placid crowd and chilly evening, the band dutifully banged out a simple set of punchy, big riff rock, punctuated by a surprising cover of the Lemonheads’ “Into Your Arms.”

Things got livelier when Hollerado, a chipper Canadian indie group returning to Buffalo for the first time since December, brought their danceable and harmony-laden pop rock to the stage. Frontman Menno Versteeg shot confetti into the crowd, offered a few unprintable words to Mother Nature and seemed happier to joke and banter than play a full set. Band members jumped in unison as they blitzed through peppy fan favorites like “Juliette” and “Got to Lose.”

The Hold Steady got straight to business, with husky-voiced frontman Craig Finn simply stating, “We’re glad to be back,” before the band broke into “Hot Soft Light.” The Hold Steady rewarded the stalwart crowd with a set of its warm, inviting, might-as-well-be-classic rock, even if the crowd still wasn’t the densely packed riot one expects on Buffalo’s Thursday summer nights.

Despite the lackluster turnout, there was one thing the crowd seemed happy about all evening: the new venue. This is the first year that this series is officially rebranded as Thursday at Canalside, and even if the harbor grounds were soaked and sloppy, fans still saw it as an improvement over the Lafayette Square days.

Lindsey Strong, a 24-year-old who called herself a “total regular” of the Thursday shows, said Canalside is “a much better place” and gives both fans and musicians “a much better time in the city.” Peter Vullo, another Thursday regular, said that compared with the Thursday at the Square shows, going to Canalside makes him feel “like I walked into a different city.”

Except for the weather, of course.

Concert Review

The Hold Steady and Hollerado

Opening night of the Thursday at Canalside Concert Series. Thursday evening at Canalside.