The Hold Steady
There was a film crew walking around in the Magic Stick, just two scruffy kids with a camera and a boom mic, asking the locals for their thoughts on the The Hold Steady for what will certainly be a Boys and Girls in America tour documentary. But the locals had little to say as Sean Na Na finished his set and the Steady were setting up their gear, since almost everyone in the club was gathered around the two or three TV sets by the bar, sucking down High Lifes and quietly willing the Tigers to score. They didn’t, and we know the rest. (“There’s always next year
” goes the refrain.) But leave it to Craig Finn, the Steady’s ringleader and avowed baseball fan, to reassure the dejected faithful. “What a great fucking season,” he said, giving props to the Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, and his beloved Minnesota Twins. “And the American League Central’s going to be great next year too,” he continued, and after guitarist Tad Kubler added a rousing “Yankees suck!” to the bittersweet festivities, the Hold Steady got back to making white dudes shit their pants with joy.
It’s a tough thing to do, to be a band full of relatively unassuming white guys in random casual wear who cause 150 other white guys to completely lose their minds. But that’s exactly what the Hold Steady did Friday night. The Minneapolis-via-Brooklyn quartet gets a lot of press for being classic rock-minded in an indie rock world, for validating the rockists’ crowing about timeless riffs and song structure, and for representing some elusive form of American bar band that only exists in music geek’s minds, since most bar bands nowadays sound like either Godsmack or late-period Eric Clapton. But you hear where all that’s coming from on the records, and you both believe and dismiss it when you see them live. That’s where the Steady prove that they aren’t about artifice, but about setting the frustrated male experience to the triumphant soundtrack that blasts at top volume in all of our heads. Finn spits out marble-mouthed, faux spoken word proclamations to booze, girls, and damage, romanticizing everything with the spirit of a novelist and setting it all to music with the balls of The Boss.
On Friday at the Stick the dudes were singing along, their girlfriends (if they were there at all) swaying politely to the beat while their beaus acted like 60s girls greeting the Beatles. Yeah, the Steady show brings new meaning to “dude-heavy.” But if this is what the men’s movement is in 2006 — if 3-minute tales of alcoholism, eventual love, late night puking, and running from the cops before eventually finding redemption are all we have left — then there’s a chance that music can still mean something, too. Or at least it meant all of that to the guys crowding Finn, Kubler, and keyboardist Franz Nicolay at the show. This was beyond seeing their favorite band. There were guys yelling every complicated Finn couplet into the rafters, others thrusting multiple beers aloft in salute, and still others half shoulder-hugging their neighbor and nearly falling, the way people do at the end of weddings and benders. All of them were smiling, and if cartoon hiccups with big gooey bubbles would’ve appeared, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The girlfriends liked the hooks; everyone did. But they weren’t receiving Finn in all his glory.