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Anointed this year’s “buzz band” by a check-shirted sect of music-magazine sages, The Hold Steady are journeyman throwbacks, not bright young things. Craig Finn’s group, from Minneapolis via Brooklyn, play raucous, revved-up rawk like Thin Lizzy, The Replacements (his boyhood heroes) and, most of all, E Street-era Springsteen. Finn writes, with the Boss’s sense of local colour, of uptight dudes and unhinged chicks, jumping the lights on “the liquor run” and getting messy at “Killer Parties”. It’s obvious why critics have seen more stars than pie-eyed astronomers.
“We only started this band because it was a good excuse to drink beers with each other two times a week,” Finn admits. Tonight, though, possibly the biggest audience for a Hold Steady headline show are here to crash the session. They roll and tumble with Tad Kubler’s guitar licks on “Chips Ahoy”, “Southtown Girls” and “Hot Soft Light”, which stagger and totter in blotto abandon. Very heaven is it to be 33 going on 17. On semi-acoustic versions of “Citrus” and “First Night”, both meaty, nostalgic swoons from the current album Boys and Girls in America, you can almost feel the audience well up as they sing along.
My reservations are churlish. What Finn admires as “fast and samey” in The Ramones strikes me a touch too repetitively about his band, despite Franz Nicolay’s filigree piano fills. Also Finn himself, as much raspy raconteur as spirited singer, occasionally acts the barfly who won’t let you be. Don’t let that deter you, however. Rather winningly, he looks like Loyd Grossman imitating Elvis Costello, and keeps doing a geeky I-can’t-believe-my-luck waddle away from the mic when his excitement becomes too much to contain.
The Hold Steady tour the UK for the next 10 days, culminating in a show at the Latitude festival on July 14. It’s hard to deny affection for their uncomplicated thrills or, indeed, for Finn when he takes snaps of the crowd and says “I’m not ignoring you on the balconies, I’m just not used to having you there”. Such bleary, Cheers-y bonhomie would banish anyone’s office blues. But how far you go with this band may depend on how many sheets you are to the wind.
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