So here’s the thing – I’m pushing 50. When I write it down it seems ridiculous. Should a 49 year old still be able to get so worked up about a rock and roll band? I hadn’t really felt the need nor inclination to travel to see a band since the 70’s & 80’s heyday of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. But here I am – back from Asbury Park,NJ, not from seeing Bruce but from seeing The Hold Steady. Again. Can they be this be this good? I keep asking myself that question.
Opening with Almost Killed Me’s “Positive Jam”, the Hold Steady lovefest was on. From the beer-swigging, beer-spilling 20-somethings to the more restrained beer sipping 40-somethings, it was a gigantic group hug… high-fiving strangers, gleefully glancing at the many friends littered about and being completely, totally, effortlessly lost in the music. By third song “Banging Camp” (I believe played at my request during a pre show chat with guitarist Tad Kubler –), I was a goner. I was convinced I was seeing the greatest rock and roll band in America. Right or wrong, I love that feeling.
So what makes The Hold Steady great? Fun. Passion. Ridiculous songs. But most of all fun. And the absolute every day Joe vibe these guys exude – they’re not rock stars, they’re your buddies’ cousin, they’re the guys from the diner, they’re you and me. If you saw Craig Finn on the street, you’d barely notice him. But he’s leading a rock renaissance, even though The Hold Steady’s stock in trade is classic rock. Melding a D.I.Y. indie vibe with Thin Lizzy meets Boston power chords, this band could potentially appeal to everyone you know. I ain’t saying that’s gonna happen, ‘cause Finn’s foghorn vocals are definitely an acquired taste. He’s destined to be the most yearbook-quoted songwriter for the classes of 2007 through 2010. His teenage angst lyrics somehow translate to the universal struggle we face in every relationship – I’m forty-freakin-nine and these lyrics hit me like I’m 19.
And I knew this before, but the not-so-secret weapon of this band is guitarist Tad Kubler. Every riff feels brand new yet instantly familiar… and the riffs are bigger than that hole Joseph Addai just ran through for Colts’ game winning touchdown. And to paraphrase Jimmy Dugan, Kubler subscribes to the theory “there’s no solos in rock and roll”. Just a face full of guitar. The staccato opening of “Stuck Between Stations, the furnace blast of “Banging Camp”, the beery riffs of “Chips Ahoy”, the wallop of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” – all Kubler all the time. If my son was to be born in 2007, his name would most surely be Tad Kubler McClatchy. (Sean – be glad you’re already 10. And for those that follow such things, three years ago it would have been Jameer Nelson McClatchy).
By the way, the cover to Boys and Girls in America cover finally hit me last night. I always thought it was a bit cheesy but standing about 10-12 deep in the crowd, when confetti was thrown during “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” and the crowd surged like one giant pair of flailing arms, the cover came to life right in front of me. That cover reeks of ecstasy and that’s exactly what this band provides. Ecstatic moments, ecstatic songs, ecstatic mini-declarations, ecstatic visions.
So can The Hold Steady be that good? Can they continue their string of breathing-taking albums and cathartic free-for-all shows? I’ll let them answer:
"Damn right they'll rise again”.