This is the story of a bar band I don‘t care for. A band who could possibly be the greatest rock band EVER! I’m talking about The Hold Steady or the mighty underdog band that does no wrong, gives hope to aging musicians and delivers babies telepathically. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with their '80's riff-rock sound. Something about it irritates me and gives me a bad case of hives. Initially, I thought The Hold Steady was a Springsteen/Hüsker Dü knock off bar band who at one time was liked for ironic purposes but somehow distant galaxies became crossed, a few planets exploded, moved to Brooklyn and one day people took The Hold Steady seriously. Would Finn be praised as much if he was singing over a three piece accordion band? In the current music climate he probably would, but that’s beside the point. Look, I admit I don't know much about these guys and I'm completely talking out of my ass. Basically, I just don't get what all the fuss and exaltations are about. But they’ve been on my radar for a few years and they won’t go away. I’ve resisted, fought mightily, I even downloaded their albums from EMusic, yet never mustering the strength to listen. I’ve been told countless times by numerous people in assorted situations to see them live because it would change my life. Any band that can change your life with a riff and a prayer is worth checking out but I stubbornly resisted. Until recently. A few weeks ago, The Hold Steady announced they would play one of the last shows at Northsix in Brooklyn before the venue closed for some good ol' gentrification. What a perfect opportunity to change my life and send off a cool venue before it gets a spit shine.
In order to prep for the show, I needed to listen to everything in The Hold Steady canon. Luckily I had their albums sitting in my music folder. There was no time to go back to Lifter Puller and explore Finn's maturation as an artist and the early signs of his innovative ability to flip a classic rock riff on its head and surround it with a tightly controlled story line. As I listened to 'Separation Sunday' and 'Boys and Girls in America' (I didn’t have enough Emusic downloads for 'Almost Killed Me'), I read every single glowing review written about 'Boys and Girls in America'. It took seven hours but I started to appreciate these Brooklyn transplants. The Hold Steady are held in higher esteem than just a silly bar band. There’s no irony attached to their fans fanatic behavior. It’s pure unadulterated love, which is rare in the indie scene these days. So what gives? Maybe I’m completely missing their aesthetic and dismissing them based on an elitist reason I can't even articulate. (We’re all guilty of it; don't act like you're not) Maybe there’s something at the center of The Hold Steady universe pulling in fans of all ages with taste buds for cheap beer. A closer look reveals something more than a requirement at the door to leave the venue piss drunk. Finn’s lyrics have the ability to speak to the eighteen-year-old and the forty-year-old in one fell swoop.
Certain lines fly out over the crowd, drop down on your shoulder and converse with you. A line like “She was a really cool kisser and she wasn't all that strict of a Christian. She was a damn good dancer but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend” seemed to make complete sense to all present. When Finn exalted “but I ain't ever been with your little hoodrat friend. What makes you think I'm getting with your little hoodrat friend” a fan standing near me closed his eyes and pumped his fist in the air violently. If he had more room, I do believe a scissor kick would have been in order. Picture the crowd at a large sporting event doing the wave. That's a Hold Steady show.
The Hold Steady did not change my life. I didn’t walk out of Northsix thinking this was the band that produced the 3rd best album of the year. I did walk out sweaty, tired, and with a big smile on my face. The same can be said for every other person who straggled out of Northsix and made their way to some late night haunt or joined me on the L train. Like I said, I'm not completely sold on The Hold Steady. Would I see them again live? I would have to say unequivocally, yes. Walking away from Northsix I was forced to do some serious soul searching and discard the preconceived notions I was carrying around. Enjoying The Hold Steady might force me to reconsider every band I’ve summarily dismissed for not fitting into my tiny fortress-of-solitude-box-of-musical-taste. You might say this is a great review or the worse review ever. At this point, even I can't tell. And what further complicates things is the fact that I was very drunk at the concert, which as I mentioned earlier was required. So all bets are off. After all this, maybe, just maybe I’ll give 'Drums Not Dead' another spin. Don't count on it.
MP3 The Hold Steady - The Swish
MP3 The Hold Steady - Your Little Hoodrat Friend
MP3 The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (Live on the Current)
MP3 The Hold Steady - Killer Parties (Remix)
More Photos: The Hold Steady @ Northsix 1/18/07
Video via jonemmerling