The Hold Steady, The Donkeys, A Decent Animal
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Better than: The Hold Steady used to be.
It's not like The Hold Steady are new at this, and they're not young either, but damn if they don't play with the stupid grins of neophytes and the ecstatic energy of kids. Most bands decay as they age. The Hold Steady just get better at being The Hold Steady.
Craig Finn, headmaster, vocalist, and some-time guitar player (he strums only when it suits him) never seems to tire of playing the omniscient, wordy narrator. He wisecracked illustrative asides and trembled joyfully last night as he expounded onstage.
"We drink along in double-time, might drink too much but we feel fine/ We're gonna build something this summer," he spat, sipping a Diet Coke. And the devotees devoured Finn at the Fillmore with fists pounding the air, drunk on liquids, probably, but also on something less tangible.
If the band's new album, Heaven is Whenever, sounds less confrontational at home, its songs get right up in your face live. The show kicked off with "The Sweet Part of the City" and "Rock Problems," which fueled a good bit of elbow exercise for the male-leaning, multi-aged set. Were it not for the yelps of joy and general sense of "fuck yeah" at the start of "Constructive Summer," the third song, you wouldn't have known the first two were new to the band's canon. But "Rock Problems" is a classic Hold Steady tale about being too fried to go to a show, fueled by a classically meathead Hold Steady riff. Like many of the latest album's songs, it sounds vaguely like a recasting of some earlier tune with a new narrative. "Hurricane J," too, issues a familiar Finn warning and riff -- though the viewpoint feels a few years farther along than it has in the past. "I see the crowd you're hanging with and those kids don't seem positive," Finn warned, sounding now more like a father than a cool older brother, five albums in.