Monday, January 22, 2007

Spitting White Noise

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”.


brian said...

Well put. Insane show!

I don't know how early uou got there but the Stone Pony played "Teenage Kicks" over the PA before the first band went on. Fantastic name for a blog!

-tom said...

Nice write up of a great show.
Here's a link to a pic my friend Ken took, the smile on Craig's face really captures the fun they were having on stage.
THS at Stone Pony

Satch said...

The Hold Steady;

Trip calls me up and tells me that I have to travel down from NYC to AP to see The Hold Steady. I really like the CDs, but I had never seen them live. Trip tells me that once I see them live … I’ll be a fan for life. So off I go.

I get there and Trip introduces me to a few of the ‘XPN board folks. [Happy Birthday Nanner!!!]. It’s a fun gathering from the get go. After the opening band concluded, the group started moving towards the middle of the dance floor.

The band strolled on stage with a happy vibe. From the slow building intro to the crash & burn finale, this concert was a showcase in what rock and roll is supposed to be. I didn’t know all the songs – but that was OK – because everyone else in the audience knew every word to every song. The last time I walked in to a setting like that was when I first saw The Pouges when they were still playing in bars.

To describe the band to someone who has never seen them is not the easies thing to do. The Ramones had a look. The Clash had a look. The Beatles had a look. These guys … it was like five guys were picked at random from your local community college to join together. Watching the stage, moving from left to right, here’s what I saw;

Franz Nicolay – keyboards; Franz dresses like he was outfitted by the costume designer for the flick “Johnny Dangerously” – and I mean that as a compliment. As a player, the man plays exactly what the songs are called for – no more, no less. It’s his sound that most likely causes the comparisons to Springsteen. But I would mention that the Bruce vibe was more of an “Ramrod” – “I’m A Rocker” Bruce, than the subtler stuff.

Bobby Drake – drums; when it comes to appearance, someone needs to call your local jam band and tell them they can find their missing drummer in THS. When is comes to power and timing, Bobby is right there with the best of them.

Galen Polivka – bass guitar; outside of looking like his last name might be “Tweedy” – Galen’s positive influence on the live show for this band goes way beyond his imaginative bass lines. He looks like he’s having a great time just being part of the cacophony that’s going on around him ... and that good vibe spreads quick.

Tad Kubler – lead guitar; This guy is the power behind the band. This man delivers guitar parts that would make Mike Ness proud. And his solos – my kind of solos – no noodling – play the part then get back to these power chords. He did crack me up on stage when he flipped his guitar around his shoulder [for those up front, I hope he’s got locking straps on that puppy].

Craig Finn – guitar, vocals; What can you say about this guy? Have you ever seen a man happier to be on stage than him? One of the major faults that I find with so many bands is that they take to the stage like they are doing the crowd a favor by just being there. Craig looks like he’s thrilled that an audience showed up and want the band to play. Some folks told me that they think that he’s a little off-centered as a performer. Not so – he’s just a guy overcome by the euphoria of the hand that fate has recently dealt him – and he’s “all in.” And as to his vocal “stylings” – sure, they may be an acquired taste, but I put him somewhere between Jim Carrol and Shane McGowan – more of a talk-singer than anything else.

As for the music – big, bigger, biggest. Hooks, guitars and drums. What more do you need? I have to sit with the CDs a little longer to talk about the lyrical content – but so far – so good.

With so many bands who have never delivered on their original promise, I think that these guys have a pretty fair shot at making a run. So count me in as one of those who will be along for the ride.

Trip - Thanks for the invite!