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.
often gets stuck
but when he
delivers he's as
reliable as an old
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.