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I Love Rock & Roll: Current Bands Worthy of Attention Part 1: The Hold Steady
I hear the phrase uttered often, "There are no good Rock & Roll Bands any more" and there has been recent talk about the death of mainstream rock and roll. Over the next few weeks I will highlight 4 modern day groups that deserve attention from young and old fans of mainstream Rock and Roll.
If there was still great rock and roll radio channels for free out there these bands would be getting much bigger recognition then they already have. These aren't indie acts, they aren't no-names, they are just a reminder that there is some really great rock and roll music being produced and you will be able to grab all of it from our catalog.
Up first: The Hold Steady.
The idea of a sing along chorus, a connection to the follies (and glories of youth) and the ability to have a good time in the face of adversity. All have been the foundations of rock and roll, all are the building blocks of success that The Hold Steady pride themselves on.
The added something that separates The Hold Steady from their contemporaries is simple: fun. The band is all about having a good time while still making you think and feel. To many so-called rock bands look like they could care less about playing live, or singing their songs, they just want to act a role. The Hold Steady live the role because they are just being themselves and it shows.
This Brooklyn by way of Minneapolis outfit have been producing some of the best rock and roll over the last decade and have done so with a killer live act, detailed studio albums and deep connection with their fans.
Touring consistently has built up the crowds from small bars to clubs, festivals and arenas but the band has never lost touch. The riffs are just as massive as the nights and the stories seem to grow more entangled with each passing verse.
Front-man Craig Finn has developed a mythology around lyrics, re-using them at odd times to wrap the listener into his world, adding a special connection where fans feel like they are in on a secret. Characters will show up here or there album to album and fans get to check in with their adventures, usually from a hole in the wall hotel room or a killer party.
Certainly Finn's everyman vibe helps these tales along; unlike say the lead singer of The Darkness, Finn seems to have lived through these tales that he weaves and has come out OK. He may not be the sexiest front-man but he may be the most identifiable to the average listener. His lyrics have a literary edge to them (perfect for an NYPL blog) in the same way a great Film Noir might. Whether discussing hardcore matinee shows, townie bar fights, or just growing/hooking up, something seems to touch people.
While Finn keeps pumping that realness vital to creating lasting bonds the music is just as key. Tad Kubler rips into gargantuan sized riffs with his lead guitar over Bobby Drake and Galen Polivka laying down the low end on drums and bass respectively. Until the last album the piano/keyboards were patrolled by Franz Nicolay but recently they have been removed for a third guitarist Steve Selvidge.
Musically fans of The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles will all find something reminiscent of their heroes but there is also a Replacements vibe that adds to the grit and a Cheap Trick flair that sprinkles on a helping of catchy cheese. The group they are most often compared to however is Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.
It is pretty easy to call them E-Street of the Blogging generation, but they are more then that; they are lifetime rock and roll fans who have taken from their heroes and created something new, unique, vital, just like their heroes did from the blues artists before them.
In dissecting the group's catalog each fan seems to have their own favorite and it usually corresponds to the album that first got them into the group. All albums are worth it, but here is the order I would dive into them and direct links in our catalog as to where to get them:
First - Boys and Girls In America (2006, Vagrant Records) One of the best albums of the last decade BaGiA gives you the full Hold Steady package over the course of its running time. Full out rockers ("Two Kooks") to tender pleas ("Citrus") the band nailed it all on this career highlight. To preview here is the official video of the disk opener "Stuck Between Stations" in which the band opens over raging guitars with the line "There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right..." what's not to love?
Next - Separation Sunday (2005, Frenchkiss Records) An almost concept album following Holly, Gideon and a cast of others, but they might as well be me and you as their problems and loves are identifiable to all. The tone of the album is more pumping band with separate storytelling front-man but the disk pumps hard behind tracks like "Multitude of Casualties" and the arena ready "Stevie Nix." The band's closest thing to a hit off of the disk might be "Your Little Hoodrat Friend."
The Rest - Full Catalog of The Hold Steady @ NYPL
Heaven Is Whenever (2010, Vagrant Records) A grown up band tackles things a touch more low key but don't sacrifice many smiles or wonders as they play records and fall in love on bedroom floors or get stranded in the sweet part of the city. Stand Out Tracks: "Hurricane J," "A Slight Discomfort," The Sweet Part Of The City."
A Positive Rage (2009, Vagrant Records) A live take on the bands heartfelt tunes, as well as a few b-sides tossed in that are as good as anything the band has done before, "Ask Her For Some Adderall."
Almost Killed Me (2003, Frenchkiss Records) The roots of the band, still coming over from the Lifter Puller days, but there are some really great standouts here and the wordplay is setting the stage for more interweaving in the future. "Swish," "Killer Parties."
Stay tuned next week for part 2 of the series; until then, do you have any Hold Steady stories or comments?