Pub rock quintet The Hold Steady have come a long way from the pub circuit, for certain. Nearly a year after the release of Boys And Girls In America, the group is in Frisco for the fourth time in three years, this time playing the massive warehouse of a venue, Mezzanine.
Master urban folklore storyteller and king of the concept album, Craig Finn got his start sing/ranting/flailing with the Minneapolis art punk art punk group, Lifter Puller (or, LFTR PLLR). After innumerable singles and EPs, and two LPs released in 1997, Lifter Puller finally climaxed with with the turn of the millennium releasing Fiestas and Fiascos, an ongoing twisted tale of shady characters based on personas Finn witnessed and/or knew from the Twin Cities. Nightclub Dwight is a club owner with a drug habit who doesn’t make good on loans from bookie The Eyepatch Guy. Katrina and Juanita are drug-addled floosies, and Jenny is a junkie with a sexual habit that pays for the substances. The tale rambles across 12 tracks and all through Minneapolis-St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs, venerating otherwise unknown placing the Do Me Nails on Lake St. and the Nan Kin restaurant on Hennepin.
Moving on to the Hold Steady, along with his LFTR PLLR partner on guitar, Tad Kubler, Finn brings the same lyrical approach. On their second release Separation Sunday, Finn revisited his knack for the concept album, penning an LP’s worth of stories about a classically bad catholic girl named Hallelujah (Holly, for short).
On their most recent release, Boys and Girls In America, the theme is not as exclusive, but it is certainly there. A critical (if not bitter) piece, Boys And Girls… centralizes on the evolution of modern pop culture, it’s excesses and it’s shortcomings. Not to infer, however that this is some anthropological dig. The album is still a string of blistering arrangements and metaphorical stories.
On stage, all five members are as spastic (and often as fucked up) as the characters in Finn’s stories (no doubt some of his influence comes from these folks as well as himself.) In front of Bobby Drake barnstorming on the drums, and joined by Galen Polivka on bass, Finn and Kubler show their years of playing together in a near mosh of motion as they belt out track after track. Keyboard minstrel Franz Nikolay jumps and claps, encouraging easily successful audience sing-alongs, and astounding with his ability to dance his ass of without taking his hands off the keys.
After all his years playing to his friends in tiny dive venues Finn leads his troupe just as entertainingly in front of hundreds, as he does tonight at San Francisco’s Mezzanine. His energy is explosive beyond description, and his ‘every man’ persona draws in fans from the front of the stage to the rafters. Inevitably much of the crowd ends up on stage for the finale, as will likely be the case when The Hold Steady plays Boulder’s Fox Theater Sunday, November 11th, and at the Ogden Theater in Denver on Monday, November 12th.