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Band or artist: The Hold Steady
Where from: USA (Minneapolis/Brooklyn)
Years active: 2004-present
Number of studio albums: 6
Highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100: N/A
Highest-charting studio album on the Billboard 200: Heaven Is Whenever (#26)
The Hold Steady is one of my favorite bands of the last fifteen years. I first heard of them in an article in Esquire (I think) eleven or twelve years ago, listing albums put out since 2000 that everyone should own (or something like that), and The Hold Steady's debut album, Almost Killed Me, was on the list. I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it said you would like the band if you're into AC/DC and read a lot. I didn't read a lot, but I was certainly into AC/DC, so I decided to check them out.
By the time I read the article, the band had just released their second album, 2005's Separation Sunday. I bought that, and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Lead singer Craig Finn was half-singing, half-talking these intricate and interesting lyrics about religion, drugs, teenagers, and recurring characters, on top of rock riffs. I then bought Almost Killed Me, and it was more of the same.
I thought both albums were great, and I really liked the band's sound, but when I saw them live at Lollapalooza in 2006 and then a few months later at The Metro, "like" turned into "love." Finn has these spasmodic dance moves, while the rest of the band just rocks out. They have been described as America's best bar band, and that's an apt description. At the show at The Metro in October 2006, they brought a case of High Life bottles on stage, which complemented the bottle of Jameson and keyboard player Franz Nicolay's bottle of red wine. They looked like they were having fun, and from everything I can tell -– having now seen them a dozen more times or so –- they are. At the end of their shows, they used to play "Killer Parties" (off of Almost Killed Me) as their last song, and Finn would say, "There is so much joy in what we do up here. I want to thank you for being here to share that joy with us." It's always refreshing to see artists who really appreciate being on stage and being able to play music for a living.
I try to see them every time they come to town. In 2014, thanks to a charity drive they had, drummer (and certified mechanic!) Bobby Drake came to my house and almost changed my oil, and then I was lucky enough to go back stage that night after their show at Concord Hall (and then quasi stalk Finn at a bar a few blocks away afterward). This year, sadly, they came to Riot Fest when I was in Europe. The kicker is that it's the tenth anniversary of my favorite THS album, Boys and Girls in America, and they played the album in its entirety.
In honor of Boys and Girls in America's tenth anniversary, the song I'm going to play for you is my favorite song off of the album (and my favorite THS song), "Massive Nights." It represents everything I love about The Hold Steady –- interesting lyrics, good energy, and a raucous, sing-along chorus. I love hearing it through speakers, and even more, I love hearing it live. Since, at the moment, I can't afford to send The Hold Steady to play live for all of you, you'll have to settle for the album version, through your speakers.