Hold Steady, The
How swoon is now
The Hold Steady are a bunch of thirtysomething Minneapolans playing ballsy bar room rock’n’roll. Mark Robertson reckons they might just break your heart.
As timely dates go, The Hold Steady stomping their way through their set on Valentine’s Day is about as apposite as you can get.
‘A lot of times we get guys bringing their girlfriends to our shows and end up ignoring them,’ says Craig Finn. ‘We look out and see those girls, their arms folded across their chests, fuming and staring at us as if to say “this is all your fault!” But hey, I’m a romantic.’
It’s a little after 8am in San Francisco, and Finn, frontman, mouthpiece and lyricist of America’s latest, greatest rock’n’roll band, is supposed to be on vacation. Instead he’s out pounding the streets - so as not to wake his friends - on the phone trying to convey the magic of his band’s new record, Girls and Boys of America, to members of the European press. To be honest, he didn’t have to go to such lengths as Girls and Boys . . . is probably one of the best albums you’ll hear all year. (Yes, it’s only February, but it is!)
A sublime mix of grimy, old fashioned bar room rock’n’roll in the spirit of Springsteen back when he could still rock and The Replacements, replete with poignant, witty lyrics you’d want to read as much listen to. This is music with big incessant hooks, explosive choruses and trembling specks of fragility and humility. The US press universally adored the record on its release there. Finn was delighted by the response. After three albums things have started to come together.
‘Technology has meant people are becoming more fragmented and distant and I think the reason people are getting excited by us is that we’re completely inclusive. It might be cool to have 2000 people on your Myspace friends list, but it’s way better to have 500 people in a room getting into your music there and then. Most importantly with us there’s no pretensions, you just come and party.’
Despite Finn’s base terms this is no frat boy mindless mosh. The music is upbeat and wildly melodic but the finesse lies in the lyrics, where he constructs narratives of come-ups, come-downs, parties that dragged on just a little too long, snatched moments of tenderness with strangers and falling, or failing to fall, in love.
Characters appear and reappear in Hold Steady songs: shifty Charlemagne, mashed up Gideon and flaky Holly are the stars. Their highs are stunted and gloriously untidy but savoured, like their lows, indulged in all their gory, indulgent glory. Finn is less an indie Springsteen, more an American Jarvis Cocker. It all feels very real. Which, of course, it isn’t.
‘The stories are fiction because I never directly experienced any of it. They’re sometimes stories I’ve heard told before or read.’
The revisiting of these characters gives a tremendous sense of cohesion to their music. It is familiar but never repetitive, making it almost filmic, or even televisual - think Dawson’s Creek meets Pulp Fiction uptown.
In a musical landscape crammed with acts whose work feels contrived or forced, The Hold Steady are truly great because they make something instantly accessible and natural. Their potential stadium fillers could easily be as porous as, say, Oasis’ calls to arms but they are deeper and more vivid, and for that wholly more compelling. And that’s not just a romantic notion.
The Cathouse, Glasgow, Wed 14 Feb.