One of the problems with so-called indie rock is often artists who are grouped under that banner are too concerned with being cool and/or are afraid to completely rock out for the fear that they'll lose their hip standing and might come off sounding too much like the classic rockers that their parents like. The Hold Steady have no such concerns, nor fears. Those mere facts make them one of the coolest bands on the planet. Check out this exclusive live performance of "Sequestered In Memphis" from the band's fourth and most recent album, Stay Positive, for proof. (And, feel free to right click and select "save as" on the audio links below each performance to add these exclusive live performances to your digital library).
The Hold Steady are based in Brooklyn, New York, also known as East Coast hipster central, yet part of the reason-as singer/guitarist Craig Finn and lead guitarist Tad Kubler note in our exclusive interview-they stand apart from the crowd is that the band plays fairly traditional rock 'n' roll. I attribute that to the fact that four-fifths of the band hail from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and that the band not only sticks to its roots, but they're proud of them. That explains the Minnesota Twins Twin Cities logo on Finn's guitar. Years ago, about the same time the band appeared on the cover of the Village Voice, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with the Hold Steady. A fellow Craig, Finn and I bonded over our love of the Replacements, a band that Finn told me he saw as a teen. He also responded positively to my observation that the band reminded of Jim Carroll, the New York-based punk poet of Basketball Diaries fame, who also has recorded five albums, mostly notably 1980's Catholic Boy, featuring the cult hit "People Who Died." Like Carroll's work, Finn's songs are literate and filled with beautiful losers conflicted by their strict religious upbringings and base instincts to run amok.
The Hold Steady has also been compared to another Saint of Rock. I will not type his name, but some refer to him as the Boss. You can hear that influence--and also a bit of Van the Man--in "Lord, I'm Discouraged," a tale of a man's devotion to a woman who has fallen down a deep hole and can't climb out. It begins touchingly enough with Kubler strumming the 12-string of his double-neck guitar before Franz Nicolay's elegant keyboards, and the sympathetic rhythm section of Galen Polivka (bass) and Bobby Drake (drums) kicks in. Hang in past the 3:30 mark, when Kubler goes off on the six-string of his double-neck. Damned if I don't hear a little bit of "Blinded By The Light"-like noodling. Check it out for yourself below.
That's heavy stuff, but the Hold Steady don't want to just drag you down. A great thing about this band is that they'll show you the depths but won't leave you wallowing in them without a lifeline toward redemption. You'll find those elements in "Constructive Summer," in which Finn trumps the live-fast-die-young desperation with a dose of sobering optimism that comes with age. With a nod to Iggy Pop and a "toast to St. Joe Strummer," "Constructive Summer" is the perfect tonic for these dog days. Check out the exclusive Yahoo! performance and interview below, and remember, have a constructive summer and stay positive.