Friday, April 15, 2011

Schultz' Earful: The Hold Steady

By: David Schultz

Once hailed as the world's greatest bar band, it's been quite some time since The Hold Steady has had to carry their own gear into a basement club and cram themselves onto an insufficiently small stage to earn their keep. Even as their success dictated that they graduate to larger rooms, like those of New York City's Terminal 5 which they played this past Friday, Craig Finn still managed to deliver his fate-driven tales of brain-addled adolescence with the sweaty fervor of a devoutly committed soap box preacher. The Hold Steady may still be one of the best things going but their distance from the bars that served as their birthing ground are softening their jagged edges.

The Hold Steady may be heeding the cautionary tale Finn spins in "Barfruit Blues" where he condescendingly congratulates an old friend for remaining in the bar scene in his typically sardonic deadpan. Finn addressed the issue in an oblique manner when he pointed out his 40th birthday was just around the corner and that his world is much different than it was a decade ago when he quit his job to start the band. Once a jittery bundle of energy that spat his beat-poetry with a uncontrolled vengeance, Finn's mannerisms now seem less ad hoc and free ranging. The exposed nerve mania still survives but a story told so many times can't help but lose its urgency.

What's being lost in spontaneity is being recovered in the breadth of the performance. Tad Kubler's guitar has always yearned for arena-sized paces and the loss of Franz Nicolay has removed a bit of the kitsch factor. Songs like "Sequestered In Memphis" and "Chips Ahoy" garner a tremendous audience response and were raised lighters still the norm, they would be lifted high during "Lord I'm Discouraged." No matter that certain themes recur a bit too frequently or that "The Sweet Part Of The City," their ode to their beginnings, sounds a bit like the Little River Band, The Hold Steady will make an old soul feel young.

1 comment:

Jon Jacobsen said...

You make some interesting points, yet, I have to disagree with you to the extent in which you seem to hold disdain for an old story's sense of urgency. Have you maybe considered that it is you who is growing old? The music shall remain the same, please keep your vampiric perceptions out of it.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!