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THE HOLD STEADY (Wolves Civic)

30-12-2008

The Hold Steady

They’ve been getting oodles of play on 6Music of late, but our reviewer Steve Beauchampe was underwhelmed by their recent Wolverhampton show. Loyal Hold Steady fan Paul Samuels took the band’s advice to “Stay Positive”.

It had been a long time coming but I did finally get to see The Hold Steady.

I'd fancied seeing them since their appearance on Jools Holland last year and then the original Wolves gig was postponed after guitarist Tad Kubler was hospitalised with pancreatitis.

Now that could have been worse. Gillian Taylforth ended up in a libel case after administering on the spot relief for her hubby's pancreatitis on a motorway hard shoulder. Seems the Police and the medically unqualified tabloid press couldn't tell the difference between a Florence Nightingale act of mercy and a Hugh Grant lewd act.

Amazingly she lost the libel case when she tried to correct The Sun's misconception.

There would have been room for a few more punters at Wolves Civic. Young people and women had stayed away. The Hold Steady's audience reflect the band themselves. Over 30, male, not too cool and gratefully glad to be out. Still, I can talk....I was taking notes!

From the opening and barnstorming Constructive Summer, Craig Finn was a whirl of geeky dervishness. Jumping , pointing, mouthing off mike and looking like Sgt Bilko. At one point he swung an imaginary baseball bat. After 5 songs he took his guitar off (he hadn't played it for the first 4) but soon put it back on again. To give it some more of the silent treatment.

Keyboard player Franz Nicolay was also hugely entertaining. Sporting flat cap, jacket and moustache combo and an arsenal of magicians gestures. At one point he covered his eyes and then struck a pose as the keyboard swirls rose. As if he couldn't quite believe the magical power in his fingertips. Part snake charming, part twerpery.

The epic Lord, I'm Discouraged from the new album featured accordion and the first appearance of the Tab Kubler's double neck guitar. Normally the beast with two necks is best left in the hands of Led Zep or the Eagles and is about as welcome as home brew. I mean it's nice that someone does it, but you just don't want to be around when it comes out.

The guitar solo itself wasn't so much unleashed as unzipped. Full blown Rush style rock pompery. And even more impressive from a man who's casual air made it look as if he was just looking round for somewhere to put an awkward shaped box he was carrying and would rejoin us in a minute. And I do like the line "...Excuses and half truths and fortified wine"

I think this is the thing about the Hold Steady. Craig Finn is essentially writing short stories. We don't actually need to believe they are autobiographical, either for him or for us (if we are the sing along type). He may look like he is someone's dad picking up the pieces afterwards rather than the actual housewrecking party dude....but then I suspect Nick Cave has also eased up on the murdering in recent years.

Finn is too geeky to convince the under 20's. Young men won't want to be him and their actual audience, of older and more beard capable blokes are rather afraid that they already are him.

So with the Hold Steady what we've actually got is a cross over Rock band. They're rawk enough for the Mid West but lyrically interesting enough for Word magazine. On record, the keyboards can be a bit too flowery for my tastes and the backing vocals sometimes have a bit too much wah and wahoo. Fine for a stadium but not necessarily what I'd want at home.

But any doubts I have about the band are just barged aside by the quality of the songs and performance. And they're still my favourite band of the last couple of years.

Check out Steve Beauchampe’s review here

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