The Hold Steady were formed in New York by vocalist Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler, two former members of a Minneapolis band, the Lifter Puller, that had released Lifter Puller (Skene, 1997), Half Dead and Dynamite (No Alternative, 1997) and the ambitious quasi-concept Fiestas & Fiascos (2000).
The duo enrolled drummer Judd Counsell and bassist Galen Polivka, and coined
an old-fashioned, infectious mix of hard-rock, roots-rock and power-pop
drenched in semi-biogaphical themes of ordinary blue-collar life, like a
lighter version of
Bruce Springsteen or a harder version of
The gems of Almost Killed Me (French Kiss, 2004) were the grittier songs:
Positive Jam, The Swish and Hostile Mass.
Separation Sunday (2005), basically a rock opera centered
around a trio of characters from a provincial town (Charlemagne, Gideon and Holly),
marked Finn's transition to adulthood without reneging any of his street
poetry. Running the gamut from the anthemic
Hornets to the lyrical
How a Resurrection Really Feels, the songs painted a fresco of
disillusionment, dejection and acceptance.
Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant, 2006) revisits Finn's personal
mythology (including the characters from the previous album) while anchoring
it to solid hooks and riffs. His epic tales of frustrated suburban kids
(Stuck Between Stations, Party Pit,
You Can Make Him Like You)
evoke the Replacements.
Stay Positive (2008), that added horns and harpsichord, excels at the rockers.
Constructive Summer, Slapped Actress,
Stay Positive, Sequestered in Memphis evoke
Bruce Springsteen at his most bombastic and rousing.
Franz Nicolay left the band and debuted as a solo artist with Major General (Fistolo, 2009).
A Positive Rage (Vagrant, 2009) is two-disc (CD plus DVD) live album and a documentary.
Hold Steady's multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay debuted solo with the mediocre
Major General (2009).
Heaven Is Whenever (2010), the first Hold Steady album without
Franz Nicolay, was, first and foremost, an impeccable sonic production.
As it is often the case, the slick baroque production is necessary to hide
the dearth of interesting music. Surprisingly,
the addition of guitarist Steve Selvidge to Tad Kubler doesn't yield
a stronger guitar sound, but almost the opposite.
Craig Finn's first solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes (Vagrant, 2012)
is a collection of pensive cinematic vignettes. It was followed by three more
solo albums before the band released its seventh album,
Thrashing Thru the Passion (2019), a mediocre collection of
five new songs and five of the nine singles released in 2017-19, an album
mainly notable for the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay.
In between the band had released Teeth Dreams (2014),
produced by Nick Raskulinecz, with
I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You and
On With the Business, but hardly related to the sound that made
the band a legend to its fans.
The last memorable guitar riff that Tad Kubler put on record
dated back to Stay Positive (2008).
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