Damn Right They’ll Rise Again | The Hold Steady

He hesitates as to find the most diplomatic way of defining them. “Less forthright than the people I choose to hang out with now.”


What makes a great live performance? My theory incorporates equal participation from both the band and the crowd, each feeding off the other and increasing the intensity as the night goes on. These are performances that leave you full and make you want to go out and do something equally impressive with your life. That is the way I felt after the June performance at St. Louis’ Hi-Pointe by the Hold Steady. The small but appreciative crowd ate up the band’s delivery, and—the ultimate tribute to a great band—stocked up on merch before they left.

The Hold Steady are known for the rip-roaring shows with a tight band (Tad Kubler, Galen Polivka, Bobby Drake, and Franz Nicolay) fronted by Craig Finn (chief lyricist), who sings/shouts out songs that read more like tabloid stories. Like Kubler and Finn’s prior incarnation as Lifter Puller, the band offers a solid rock marathon to match the gesticulations of their lead singer. Finn’s style is very unique: He tends to do a lot of chatting to the air and pointing or skywriting with his fingers. I asked him just what he is doing up on stage. “That’s just something I use to keep focus,” he told me. “A lot of times, it’ll be lyrics from the song, just repeated off the mic. I guess I’m talking to myself, and I’m talking to the audience, in general.”

Characters in Hold Steady songs tend to be headed for doom or redemption; some are just unlucky observers who get pulled in along the way. They seem like characters in a Springsteen song that have gone on a bender. When I mentioned this, Finn concurred. “Oh yeah, that’s not crazy at all. I mean, we joke around and call the Hold Steady a bar band. But that’s sort of the ideal of what it is; it’s the E Street Band, too.”

Many of these characters evolved from his youth in Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. “A lot of the lyrics are based around that time when I got a driver’s license. I was just 15 minutes from Minneapolis. You know, like Joe Strummer said: ‘We had a hedge back home in the suburbs over which no one could see.’ I was just 15 minutes from Minneapolis.” Finn’s teenaged world included a vibrant music scene that featured Husker Du and the Replacements. Unbelievable to most of us, but to Finn it seemed the norm. “It just seemed like they were local bands.”

With his rock ‘n’ roll coming of age, Finn also got to learn about things that were less musical, but would pop up in his lyrics later on. “There’s an inherent amount of trust at that age,” he said. “You might go to a party that you are too smart to go to now. I definitely met some people that were…” He hesitates as to find the most diplomatic way of defining them. “Less forthright than the people I choose to hang out with now.”

Prevalent among the lyrics of their latest album, Separation Sunday, are many religious references, such as, “She’s got blue black ink and it’s scratched into her lower back/it said: ‘damn right I’ll rise again.’ Yeah, damn right you’ll rise again.” As with the other characters for whom Finn has a fascination, he is drawn to, in his words, people who “pinball between self-destruction and salvation.” He is intrigued by the fact that, as he said, “many religious people hold their religion in the same place addicts hold their drugs.”

Its manic stage presence combined with an amazing band and stories that take the listener for a ride, the Hold Steady—already the critic’s darlings—appear to be just getting started. In 2006, Finn sees more touring and a new album by early fall. The mention of the new album brought even more exuberance from him, whose enthusiasm for talking about music is only matched by his love for Minneapolis Twins baseball. “Working on new stuff,” he said, “is one of the most fun parts about being in a band.” Well, let’s get to the fun.

| The Hold Steady tour the southern and western U.S. in February before heading off to Australia for a ten-city tour.


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