The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady have been around for a while but some of my classic rock-loving friends remain in the dark about them. Which makes me think my friends are lame or there are other classic rock fans who'd benefit from an introduction. I can’t bear the thought of having lame friends, so I write. That, and because I recently saw the band perform live in San Francisco in support of their new album, Teeth Dreams, they are on my mind.
One of my definitely-not-lame friends turned me on to The Hold Steady a few years ago, suggesting I check out Boys and Girls in America, the band’s third record (2006). The first track on that record, “Stuck Between Stations,” holds a revered position as the first track on my gym playlist. Since I work out before dawn and don’t drink coffee, I need a song that can be counted on to give me a jolt — there's too much at stake for that first track to fall flat. I can count on “Stuck Between Stations.”
And you can most certainly count on a band whose list of ten must-have albums includes Exile on Main Street, the Replacements’ Let It Be, American Beauty, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Darkness on the Edge of Town and London Calling. If that list doesn’t convince you to check out this band, I’m not sure anything will. My one beef with the band is that Craig Finn, the lead singer who hails from Minneapolis, believes that Grant Hart is a better songwriter than Bob Mould. That stung a bit when I read it. My favorite Hüsker Dü songs were all written by Bob Mould. But that’s quibbling, really.
The lyrics on Boys and Girls in America, many of which are about getting drunk or high (or both), may be hard to relate to anymore for some of us, but nostalgia is sometimes its own reward. And the music is full of catchy riffs and chord progressions rooted — deeply — in classic rock.
Teeth Dreams, the band’s first record in four years, was worth the wait. The music is vibrant and full of great moments. I particularly like the guitar solo on “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You.” It's comprised of a few very simple notes but is set against sweeping power chords and rolling drums that lift the arrangement to great heights.
I also like “The Ambassador” with its swelling chorus and laid-back beat. The record really comes alive in concert. The show in San Francisco was a tour de force. The roaring guitars, the 1990s moshing, the sweat. You know a band rocks when it inspires a bald fifty-something to stage dive — thrice.
The concert also inspired my wife to jettison any thought of making her 6:00 a.m. pilates class the next morning and instead hit the town after the show for late night cocktails. For this one night, I could (almost) relate again to the lyrics on Boys and Girls in America.