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The Hold Steady

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hold steady

The Hold Steady

Photo: Judson Baker.

Hold Steady Overview:

The Hold Steady are the quintessential bar band of the early 21st century. Powered by the short-story lyrics and nerdy appearance of frontman Craig Finn, the Hold Steady incorporate harmonica and Bruce Springsteen-like keyboard flourishes in their straightforward rock songs, which gives their material an authentic everyman quality. A beloved critics band, the Brooklyn quintet have toured steadily in order to reach a wider audience, although they have as yet failed to cross over to mainstream rock radio.

Hold Steady's Origins:

Craig Finn had been in the ‘90s indie-rock band Lifter Puller, but after that group disbanded he debated his next move. For his next group, he decided to move away from Lifter Puller’s Husker Du-style postpunk for a warmer, full-band sound that recalled the Band. Joined by Judd Counsell on drums, Tad Kubler (who had also been in Lifter Puller) on guitar, Galen Polivka on bass, and Franz Nicolay on keyboards and harmonica, Finn started the Hold Steady in New York City in 2002.

Living Through What 'Almost Killed Me':

The Hold Steady released their first album, Almost Killed Me, in 2004 through an independent label. Hailed by critics for Finn’s incisive lyrics about jukeboxes, excessive partying and ex-girlfriends, Almost Killed Me didn’t get much radio airplay, but it quickly became one of those must-own albums for hipsters hoping to prove their credentials as arbiters of cool. On powerful, riff-heavy cuts like “The Swish,” the Hold Steady rocked in a defiantly old-school way, celebrating the energy of loud, beer-drenched guitars and sing-along choruses at a time when sensitive indie-rock was very much in fashion.

A Dark, Sensational Follow-Up:

A year later, the Hold Steady returned with Separation Sunday. A darker record than Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday dealt with the need for salvation, spiritual or otherwise, over its 11 tracks. Finn’s Springsteen fixation fully emerged on this album, as his urgent vocals recalled the beautiful losers the Boss serenaded on his ‘70s albums and the music’s epic bar-band sound mimicked the back-alley vigor of the E Street Band. Every song on Separation Sunday had a hook and a fleshed-out narrative, and the Hold Steady became critically acclaimed as one of indie-rock’s most promising young bands.

Celebrating the 'Boys and Girls in America':

By the time of 2006’s Boys and Girls in America, two changes had taken place. First, the Hold Steady had moved to the higher-profile indie label Vagrant, and the group had replaced original drummer Judd Counsell with current drummer Bobby Drake. Boys and Girls in America was Finn’s attempt to write a sweeping album about being young, in love and under the influence of one substance or another. The album’s themes were laid out brilliantly on the opening cut, “Stuck Between Stations,” a rousing rocker with surreal lyrics about dead poets, doomed love affairs and the creeping inevitability of aging.

Going for a Moodier, More Atmospheric Sound:

The Hold Steady returned in 2008 with Stay Positive. The band’s first record to crack the Top 30 of the Billboard album chart, Stay Positive featured a more layered sound and moodier atmospherics, although the group’s bar-band aesthetic remained dominant. Stay Positive wasn’t as bold a record as previous Hold Steady efforts, but that seemed to be in keeping with the album’s somber tone and the songs’ uncertain main characters.

'A Positive Rage':

On April 7, 2009, the Hold Steady released their first live album, A Positive Rage, which was recorded during a performance in Chicago on Halloween 2007.

'Heaven Is Whenever':

The Hold Steady released a new album, Heaven Is Whenever, on May 4, 2010. It was the band’s first studio record since the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, who split from the group in January. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heaven Is Whenever was a more guitar-oriented album than the band’s recent efforts.

Hold Steady Lineup:

Bobby Drake – drums
Craig Finn – vocals, guitar
Tad Kubler – guitar
Dan Neustadt – keyboards
Galen Polivka – bass
Steve Selvidge – guitar

Essential Hold Steady Songs:

“The Swish” (Purchase/Download)
“Your Little Hoodrat Friend” (Purchase/Download)
“Stuck Between Stations” (Purchase/Download)
“Sequestered in Memphis” (Purchase/Download)

Hold Steady Discography:

Almost Killed Me (2004) (Purchase/Download)
Separation Sunday (2005) (Purchase/Download)
Boys and Girls in America (2006) (Purchase/Download)
Stay Positive (2008) (Purchase/Download)
A Positive Rage (live album) (2009) (Purchase/Download)
Heaven Is Whenever (2010)

Hold Steady Trivia:

  • The Hold Steady have covered songs by Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
  • Before starting the Hold Steady, Craig Finn was working in an office, contemplating giving up on music.
  • The Hold Steady's first show was in January 2003 in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Tad Kubler is an avid photographer.

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