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UnRated Magazine Review:
Band Concert Review

The Hold Steady: Vinyl Mafioso’s

By Anthony Kuzminski

The Metro-Chicago, IL
October 30, 2007

In the balcony of the 1,100 seat Metro club, spitting distance from Wrigley Field, I’m watching the Hold Steady perform a rave up version of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”, a full tilt rocker from their sophomore disc ‘Separation Sunday’. From out of nowhere I see this young woman, jettison herself in the balcony on her tippy-toes for a view of the stage. She is completely transfixed on the concert stage as her well decorated lips move in sync with lead singer Craig Finn. Her body begins to tremble and her eyes consume the stage as if the love of her life is proposing to her in front of a sold-out club. I offer her a better vantage point for which she thanks me and gladly takes. Her arms go to the air, her lungs exert themselves and her hips sway in a way that only Mick Jagger could wax poetically about. This is what rock n’ roll is all about. There is ecstasy in watching this fan release her emotions through the sheer intensity of music. As the song comes to an end, she is about to leave and she thanks me once again for the better vantage point. She tells me “I was in the bathroom when that song started and there was no way I could miss this song, it’s my favorite”. Ladies and gentlemen…this is what defines a fan and is the primary reason why rock n’ roll is still alive. Oh yeah…and the Hold Steady, they chopped away at their instruments within an inch of their lives and it is no wonder this girl put visceral and aural pleasure ahead of bladder relief.

It’s Halloween Eve, and the Hold Steady, took over the stage at the Metro for the first of two nights. I first heard about them a year ago as ‘Boys and Girls in America’ was about to be released and before you knew it, I was searching out their other two albums. Imagine Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band meets the Replacements for the ‘Star Wars’ generation. If they were signed to a major label, outside writers and producers would most likely be brought in to sharpen the band’s already tight sound. However, if this were to happen, they were be deflating what makes this band so damn great. The Hold Steady is all about simplicity and this is the beauty of the Hold Steady. As they walked on stage, aside from the keyboard player Franz Nicolay, they all could have been crowd members watching the show. They are an unyielding and precise five-piece band with combustible talents whose exuberant performances are nothing short of uplifting.

Opening with a trio of numbers from their luminous ‘Boys And Girls In America’ the band gracefully performed a perfect ninety-minute set that accentuated all of their best qualities. “Party Pit”, a flawlessly ebullient rocker that screams for you to raise your fist to the air, kicked off the festivities and the momentum never stopped. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Metro this crowded with fans arm to arm and completely in sync with the band. The energy was striking for the entire main set as the band never let go of the audience’s rapt attention. Singer Craig Finn and bassist Gaylen Polivka are two people you would invite to every party you ever had if you knew them. They are a wonder to behold as they are animated heroes and will the crowd’s arms, hearts and voices to the air. “Hot Soft Light” found these two once again provoking the audience into a roar of enthusiasm. I haven’t seen any two band members work a club crowd this well in eons. I want to say that “Chips Ahoy” is frat-boy rock, but it’s so much more as the skuzzy riffage of their instruments intermix to create a spellbinding sonic delight. “Stuck Between The Stations” is guitar rock perfection with its full forced memorable chords. Even “Same Kooks” and “Southtown Girls” were performed with an unrelenting determination. The Hold Steady ignited their instruments and gleefully performed with pure unyielding joy. This is a band that is a throwback to a time and place where genres within rock were non-existent.

I was surprised to see the band steer through a half dozen songs from their debut, ‘Almost Killed Me’. Most of their shows only highlight one or two songs from this album but for night one at the Metro the band tore through them as if they were freshly written numbers they were giddy to play for the first time. It gave me a fresh perspective on an album I have overlooked up to this point. The ringing backbeat of drummer Bobby Drake was on display and it was awe inspiring, especially on the combative “The Swish”. Hell, I could have watched Drake all night as his inexorable meticulousness was a sight to behold. The boiled “Positive Jam” and the intense snarl of “Sweet Payne” accentuated the bar room feeling given to each of these sweat drenched numbers. The cohesive minimalist rawness the band brought to each of these songs was beyond remarkable and compelling. They brought the same sonic grandiosity to the new songs “Joke About Jamaica” and “Lord I’m Discouraged”. The latter was epic, cooing and echoed Led Zeppelin while maintaining their no nonsense rock attitude.

As the show drew to a close and the band played “Killer Parties”, Craig Finn came to the mic and said “There is so much joy in what we do up here” and I could not write anything more poetic. I know...I’m a writer and should be able to concoct something poetically significant to sum up that final quote, but I can’t, because like the evening that preceded it, the show was spot on and perfect. It was full of extreme highs and no lows. I see a lot of shows but these guys take the cake for enjoying themselves the most. Guitarist Tad Kubler even climbed one of the speakers for his final solo. It was an evening filled with a number of epiphanies and a blissful lack of self-consciousness that put each and everyone of the 1,100 attendee’s into a charmed state of mind. The Hold Steady is a group who just isn’t a great rock n’ roll band but whom excel at showcasing the sonic and grandiose simplicities rock n’ roll has to offer. If you haven’t had the chance to introduce yourself to their joyous brand of rock n’ roll, you need to.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door



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