While their peers slather on the eyeliner, hunt for puffy shirts at thrift stores and wear out the grooves on their Duran Duran, Cure and New Order records, the members of the Hold Steady have been dining on meat and potatoes.
Call them the anti-new-wave wave.
The band's recently released third LP, Boys and Girls in America, is already one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, and they are often compared to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band on account of the loveable losers in their story-songs and their affection for rock-and-roll piano. But if you ask singer/lyricist Craig Finn, he'll tell you his band's songs of the burned out, dropped out, hollowed out and shaken down are more reminiscent of the gutter glory spun by their hometown heroes, Minneapolis' Replacements.
"It just kinda happened," Finn said of the Boss' influence, which sounds less intentional than that claimed by such contemporaries as the Killers (see "Killers' Next LP Will Show Strong Influence Of ... Bruce Springsteen!?"). "That's not really the goal. It's sorta what we do. We're a bar band, and in the era of rock and roll we're referencing, the E Street Band was the best. It's not an unfair comparison because of the whole American teenage thing, but it's being done by guys who grew up listening to punk rock, so there's a lot of other things in there too. Like the Replacements, who are as much an influence as Springsteen."
As wild and free as some of Springsteen's characters were in his 1970s heyday, and as debauched as some of the Replacements' subjects were in the '80s, neither can hold a candle to the Hold Steady's spun-out, memory-deprived wild youth in songs like "Party Pit" and "Massive Nights." Like a lot of the characters Finn writes about — who he swears are composites of people he's known and not necessarily based on one person — the dusk-to-dawners in the first single, "Chips Ahoy!," sound like fun people to hang out with, for a little while anyway.
"How am I supposed to know that you're high/ If you won't let me touch you?/ How am I supposed to know that you're high/ If you won't even dance?" Finn sings in his signature nasal deadpan over a stumbling power-pop explosion of "whoo-whooo-ooo"s and bashing drums.
On its third release in as many years, the hard-touring, hard-partying group serves up some of its most accessible songs to date, without the concept-album conceit of last year's Separation Sunday, which told the story of a girl in suburban Minneapolis torn between her love of sex and drugs and her church upbringing. Boys and Girls does, however, have the band's signature literary references — the title is based on a line from Jack Kerouac's legendary "On the Road," and "Stuck Between Stations" alludes both to Kerouac and late poet John Berryman, both of whom Finn said played a big part in inspiring his lyrics.
"I read [Kerouac's] 'On the Road' when I was 16 and I didn't like it because I didn't understand it," he said. "Then, 16 years later, I read it and I loved it and thought it was really funny." Finn taped one of the book's lines, "Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together," on the wall and used it as the sole inspiration for the songs, which don't follow a straight timeline like those on Sunday, but still feel like parts of the same youth-gone-wild picture he's been slowly piecing together over the past few years.
And while many — OK, most — of the group's songs are about the rush of chemical experimentation, Finn said he hopes the band's fans realize that they're equally about the sadness and depression brought on by using drugs and alcohol. "It's not all a celebration," he said. "It's an important thing to capture in any songs about drinking or drugs the highs and lows."
Hold Steady tour dates:
- 10/26 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/ Smart Bar
- 10/27 - Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
- 10/28 - Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
- 10/29 - Ottawa, ON @ Zaphod Beeblebrox
- 10/30 - Cambridge, MA @ The Middle East Downstairs
- 11/21 - Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar
- 11/22 - Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
- 11/24 - Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell's
- 11/25 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 11/26 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
- 11/27 - Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern
- 11/29 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
- 11/30 - Tampa, FL @ Orpheum
- 12/1 - Tallahassee, FL @ Beta Bar
- 12/2 - New Orleans, LA @ The Parish at House of Blues
- 12/4 - Little Rock, AR @ Sticky Fingerz Chicken Shack
- 12/5 - Columbia, MO @ Mojo's
- 12/6 - Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
- 12/7 - Iowa City, IA @ The Picador
- 12/8 - Newport, KY @ Southgate House
- 12/9 - Louisville, KY @ Headliners
- 12/13 - Buffalo, NY @ The Showplace
- 12/15 - Northampton, MA @ Pearl Street