The Hold Steady – [Live]

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Hold Steady were once voted onto a list of the Top 10 Most Underrated Bands Of All Time by a high-end music magazine that shall remain unnamed. Can you believe that? No, Tom Waits and The Replacements – criminally underrated artists – also made that list, so be certain is wasn’t compiled by philistines by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, when I consider the Hold Steady, and my enjoyment of them, that’s exactly what I think of myself – a philistine.

They say that the Hold Steady are a love or hate band. Well, I didn’t find them to be either, exactly. File me under OK, because that’s what I think of them; I enjoy them. However, that’s blasphemy to the Hold Steady fandom (or United Scene, as they refer to themselves), and as such I probably don’t deserve to speak of them. The thing that is fascinating to me about this band is how completely enamored their fans are of their music and Craig Finn’s storytelling. They swallow everything the band produces and become so immersed that it’s not an uncommon thing for fans to say that The Hold Steady ruined music for them (i.e. they refuse to listen to anything but them). I like my music straightforward and honest, but as a casual Hold Steady listener, the inside stories – with recurring characters and locales – can make one feel alienated. It’s just too much work for me – I’d rather stick to Husker Du or the Replacements. And my attention span is short, which is why I love the Ramones.

That said, I feel like I have to admit that the band has written some pretty amazing songs, and that their ability to strike musical gold should be noted. Case in point “The Sweet Part of the City” off their most recent album, Heaven Is Whenever, ought to become everyone’s Summer anthem. It’s just that good. So, with this in mind, I’m on a train halfway to Boston from Pennsylvania writing about the time I first saw the Hold Steady in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg doesn’t attract good outside talent very often, but something that’s become a sort of tradition over the years (or at least it should be) is seeing the Hold Steady at the Appalachian Brewing Company just outside of the city every couple of years. My companion, and a bona fide Stead-Head, tells me that a bar setting is the perfect place to see this band, “They are a ‘bar band’ and can best be enjoyed with beer at hand.” This makes me cringe, because speaking such nonsense is analogous to saying that a Corona is best enjoyed with a lime when, in truth, the product needs that supplement to make it consumable. However, with tasty micro-brews on tap, at a hot bar, surrounded by beautiful mahogany and brewing tanks, a cold beer at hand does feel good.

When the band takes the stage, the crowd goes berserk. I see many Unified Scene shirts up front ready to sing along to every word. Craig Finn announces, “Thanks to Jersey Mike for bringing us out again. We’re gonna have a good time.” The band kicks in with "The Sweet Part of the City," and just like the song says, everything sparkles and it feels like we’re on wheels. To be quite honest, that’s the best way to describe a Hold Steady show; as a fan, surrounded by good people, and good beer. The band wastes no time and digs right into tight renditions (with 2.5 guitarists in the line-up even if you want to count Finn) of some of their other favorites like "Hornets! Hornets!," "Constructive Summer" and "Sequestered in Memphis." I’m no hardcore fan, but I can tell the crowd is being made love to. An hour and a half later, we’re soaked in sweat, beer and smiles. With cups on the ground, ringing ears, swaggers and the smell of stale beer, it feels like a good party has just ended. Is there anything else you can ask from a show?

So, a special thanks goes out to Jersey Mike for making this night of magic happen. Keep a look out on your city schedule for The Hold Steady – who are violently on tour right now – and an even closer look at the 6-pack in your fridge.



An updated list of The Hold Steady's tour dates through July 10, 2010 is available here .

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