The Hold Steady bringing the party to Mr. Smalls
No band other than The Hold Steady could make things such as Catholic guilt, bad youthful decisions, bumbling drug dealers and strange times in Ybor City seem like such a giant party.
For a decade now, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-the-Twin-Cities rock band has inspired its audience to raise their glasses and toast heroes such as St. Joe Strummer as its shows have become some of the biggest, most spirited sing-alongs around.
And this unlikely success story will be back in town Tuesday at Mr. Smalls, where the beers will flow freely (unlike that weird show at Carnegie Music Hall in Munhall, maybe their only dry show ever) that not only will be a celebration of what the band has accomplished but a look to what's ahead.
The Hold Steady will be celebrating its hoodrat friends in Charlemagne, a racehorse named Chips Ahoy!, and Steve Perry, though people call him Circuit City because he's so well connected, and the band will be on the heels of releasing its long-awaited new studio album “Teeth Dreams.” This, its sixth opus, follows 2010's “Heaven Is Whenever” and is its first for new Razor & Tie imprint Washington Square Music. Lead track “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You” debuted online, and longtime fans should feel right at home, with the righteous classic-rock-meets-Replacements-power guitar work and master lyricist Craig Finn's talk-sing vocals. It's certain to be a live favorite and sounds like a return to the band's “Separation Sunday” and “Boys and Girls in America” form.
The Hold Steady sort of grew out of Lifter Puller, the band Finn and guitarist Craig Kubler were in before this group took off. They dreamed of bringing back the rock glory from their youth and the Hold Steady was born. Its first record “Almost Killed Me” dropped on Frenchkiss Records in 2004, followed by the band's breakthrough “Separation Sunday,” which spawned the cult hit “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” that remains a favorite to this day.
The band jumped to Vagrant Records and upped the ante on “Boys and Girls,” with its anthemic “Stuck Between Stations,” with references to Jack Kerouac's “On the Road” narrator Sal Paradise and poet John Berryman's suicide.
It's a celebration of everything that makes us who we are, the triumphant and tragic combined, and to see the Hold Steady perform the song is transforming.
“Stay Positive” followed in 2008, continuing the band's momentum and fun times, and then “Heaven Is Whenever” landed in 2010. The group sort of went dark from a recording standpoint after that, though Finn released a fantastic solo record “Clear Heart Full Eyes” that showed his musical prowess stretch in different directions.
The band recorded a version of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” from HBO's “Game of Thrones” and released it as a Record Store Day 7-inch along with the song “Criminal Fingers.” Then came news of “Teeth Dreams,” along with a covers EP “RAGS,” proceeds of which go to the K+L Guardian Foundation that benefits the children of a fan who passed away.
So the party's ramping up again, and if you've never had a chance to see the Hold Steady live, now's a great chance. The band has 10 years of infectious hits and good times, so perhaps go and raise your glass to The Hold Steady, because for many of us, it has been our only decent teacher.
Brian Krasman is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.