Friday 31 August 2007

The Hold Steady, Rescue Rooms

For the last few weeks I've been grooving to the new The Hold Steady CD, which L has lent me. I don't know how I managed to let this band slip through my fingers; their new album is terrific. L's getting quite good with her music; they're just one of a few bands she's introduced me to recently.

We head off to the Rescue Rooms. It's packed. Which is a surprise; we didn’t expect this sort of turn out. The view isn’t brilliant and I’m not at all sure whether L can see anything. So far it's hardly her ideal gig. We have already missed the support band, which is a shame because I would like to have seen a bit of them, if only to see what a band called 'Cat The Dog' looked like.

At 9pm the band come on and launch into 'Hot Soft Light' from the new album. Like all their songs, it is full of power chords and fist-pumping choruses mangled together with lead singer Craig Finn's downbeat lyrics about drink, drugs, and girls.

‘It started recreational, it ended kind of medical’

They seem to be very keen on their drink, their drugs, and their girls in Minnesota.

The audience is quickly divided into those who know what the Hold Steady are about and those that don't. It seems that a lot of people have come along just because it's Friday night and it's only a tenner to get in. Quite quickly space appears as a lot of people nip out for a cigarette. Instantly the gig is more comfortable, perhaps even L can see. Why leave? Ok, so the Hold Steady may not exactly sound or look fashionable. For a start Craig Finn is 35 (still on life's up slope) and looks more like a schoolteacher than a rock star but the most important thing is the great sound that they make. Their songs may be almost pub songs but they are well-written, very catchy, and great fun.

Most of the set is culled from their latest album which is presumably what the audience came to hear but surprisingly the best-known tracks come early. Finn shows us what a well-read chap he is. ‘Stuck Between Stations’ is about the poet John Berryman. The line 'Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together' is from Jack Kerouac's, 'On the Road'.

'This is another song about a boy and a girl, and a horse.' Finn says as he introduces the excellent ‘Chips Ahoy’, which is the other side of the creative coin. The song takes place at a horse race, about a couple who despite winning just can’t find the happiness they desire. Finn swings his arms around a lot as he sings, as if trying to expand on the words.

'This is a drinking song' he tells us but then he corrects himself, 'well they’re all drinking songs'.

Finn sings stories about characters to care about. I wonder if his own youth was misspent (or well spent) in the manner he describes, that is getting high or getting drunk or probably both.

Some older tracks come later. ‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’ from their second album goes down well and for the encore after a couple of slowies in 'Citrus', for which out comes the accordion and the xylophone and 'First Night', they play 'Everyone's A Critic But Most People Are DJs' and 'Killer Parties' both from their debut. I think at one point the lead guitarist fell off the stage but I’m not sure.

Overall the band put in a gritty yet professional performance to a crowd of mixed ages. Some young, some as old as Finn, some even older than ancient old me. In the end the venue is about right, the band's sound is probably best suited to the smaller venues but I think their increasing fame may see them round the corner at Rock City next time.

He thanks the crowd and says what a joy it is to be here. He's clearly stoked to be up on stage, enjoying himself and enjoying the fact that the audience were loving it too. It's great to see a band that has as good a time on stage as the crowd are having off it. You can’t help being buoyed by the band's boundless enthusiasm and infectious personality but it's not the performances that make the band so good, it's the songs.

'We had a massive night, every song was right'

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