The Hold Steady, Electric Ballroom, London, August 2007
‘The Best Bar Band in America’ was (I think) a tag that The Hold Steady tended to get lumbered with, but I never thought of it having a negative connotation for them. They were an older style, mid-west guitar band, with riffs and fist-pump choruses that was somehow a return to a simpler, less pretentious approach. We might diss it as ‘pub rock’ in Australasia, yet Craig Finn’s songs are basically narrated character tales of boys and girls doing stuff (maybe stupid), getting messed up, making mistakes, running with a bad crowd kind of stuff that makes for great listening. I came in with Boys and Girls In America in 2006, and these bar room, Springsteen-ish tales to actual rock guitars with piano! – just try the opening of ‘Stuck Between Stations’): “She was a damn good kisser, but she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian”. Very refreshing to all the indie coming out of the UK at the time - it was so ‘American’, it was great. We were stoked to also get to the legendary Electric Ballroom as well - we tried to get to as many venues across the gigs we went to while in London. The big, long, single level venue was packed, and in a way it felt like an Orientation gig: everyone was just keen to get liquored up and slam about… plus it felt like there were a lot of American punters in to see their compatriots. Simply put, it rocked. Tune after tune to leap about to, spilling beer, let out some “Whoah, oh oh oh ohhh oohs” too. Feet on the monitor. Windmill guitar playing actions. Power chords! Power chords! Power chords! The live sound of the band was also bang-on with the records, further adding to that ‘bar band’ tag - well, in their case it might be an ethos. I mean, what is the point singing songs about people going to bars and parties, and seeing bands if you yourself sound shit live? No problem for The Hold Steady. Bang for buck. Hell, I think part of the allure of these guys is that if you are the right age (or older, and looking back) you want to put yourself in the songs’ characters shoes. Would love to see them again one day. I know they got a lot of attention from pointy-headed Guardian types for the ‘gritty urban observations of modern suburban America’, but actually… taking just a second to drop the analysis, they are just a fucking good band. First track I ever heard of theirs, and still my fave, is ‘Chips Ahoy’.