The Hold Steady
with The Big Sleep and Victory Factory
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Sunday, Nov. 26, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12 in advance, $14 at the door
A sticker on the cover of The Hold Steady's third album, Boys and Girls in America, carries the question of Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield: "Damn, Hold Steady. How can one band be so good?"
"That's so obnoxious," says Hold Steady guitarist Tad Kubler, from the set of a show the New York five-piece is filming for Bravo, one day before they fly to the West Coast to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live alongside Don Rickles. "I tried to get them to not use that."
Sheffield, of course, poses a rhetorical question, but it's certainly worthy of an answer. For starters, there's their sound, beholden to many but true to none. Imagine a Venn diagram with circles labeled "E Street Band," "Thin Lizzy" and "Soul Asylum." The Hold Steady is the shaded area where they intersect. Essentially, it's catchy hard rock.
"One thing that never comes up is kind of the Led Zeppelin thing we do. I like to think we do the huge rock riff pretty well," offers Kubler. "I know that they're probably my biggest influence. Dude, I play a double-neck guitar. I'm aping Jimmy Page. I should send him a check."
Beyond the essential rock recall, though, is frontguy Craig Finn and his writing. Finn—the former Lifter Puller songwriter once memorably tagged the "Charles Nelson Reilly of Rock" because of his specs and excitable manner—has the conversational style of the best storytellers. He's talking to us. And he might even be talking about us, at least those of us who got chemically fortified before high school dances and just drifted through scenes in the years that followed. Finn revisits those massive nights of "lusty little crushes" and the awkward turbulence that followed without flinching, coating it in understanding, if not a glaze of nobility. And when he lets loose with a line like "Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/ I've had kisses that made Judas seem sincere," complete with his trademark religious imagery, you want to carry him around a crepe-papered gym on your shoulders.
"One thing that I think Craig and Springsteen really have in common lyrically is that [they're writing about] good people in bad situations trying to get to better ones," says Kubler, citing the artist whose name appears most frequently in Hold Steady discussions. "I've heard a lot of people say that Craig's lyrics are really dark. But there's a lot of hope, I think, in the narrative."
Whether it's the shared experiences represented by the stories or the promise at their core that things will get better, high school kids as well as those some 25 years removed from fashioning pipes out of Pringles cans identify with Finn's songs. In fact, a Midwestern teen made a day-in-my-life video set to a Hold Steady song and submitted it to the band's Web site. It was simply shots of the young guy hanging out with his friends, navigating junior year's notoriously choppy waters, but it hit home for the small-town Wisconsin-reared Kubler. "I actually teared up watching it," he says. "The high school experience never changes."
Damn right, Sheffield. Now, Hold Steady.