Friday, September 2, 2011

Losing their grip

By Mike Tierney

For music devotees, nothing approaches the nearly carnal experience of hearing a kick-ass song by an unknown artist for the first time, then setting aside everything -- work, family, food -- to research the band's background and its other offerings.

Mike Tierney
often gets stuck
between blogs,
but when he
delivers he's as
reliable as an old
Atlanta Journal
One of those moments, for me, was triggered by "Stuck Between Stations" a well-paced pleasure of organized chaos by The Hold Steady from late 2007. Melodic, grinding guitars blend perfectly with a creative rhythym section and a helpful piano.

Geeky songwriter Craig Finn's half-sung, half-spoken vocals is an acquired taste that I have yet to fully acquire. But his thoughtful narratives, if tarnished slightly by a habit of repeating lyrics and themes, inject a mostly welcome flavor.
The boys passed through my town the other night, enthusiastically churning out 90 minutes for a crowd of under 1,000 that suggest their following has flattened out. That is hardly a surprise.

The band has painted itself in a box, which speaks to a challenge for any musical act nowdays. To get noticed, you must stake out a piece of ground that is unplowed. Once you claim it, how do you expand and grow?

Since the coming-out, the Hold Steady limited itself further by jettisoning the piano man. It is all bass, drums and guitars -- 2 1/4 of them, given that Finn strums only every now and then. Finn and lead guitarist Tad Kubler have a good enough ear to find some freshness in most numbers, and I am content if these guys keep stringing together crunchy chords until they have run out of combinations.

I suspect the vast musical audience, impatient by nature, will move on, even those among them who were bowled over by that breakthrough song, The audience last night skewed Gen X and Baby Boomer, making the average older than the onstage players. Not a good sign.

Most bands unable to advance to what the sports world calls The Next Level soon dissolve. This one might stick around awhile -- a new record is around the corner, which might provide a bump -- but I'm guessing we will not have The Hold Steady to kick-ass us around much longer.

That would be too bad. As a keepsake, though, we would have a nice body of work. And I will have the memory of my introduction to them through "Stuck Between Stations," a song for the ages.

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