The Hold Steady, Roundhouse, London
Wednesday 31 December 2008
As any self-respecting rock'n' roller knows, the press love a good myth.
Bob Dylan knew it when in early interviews he played up to his lonesome hobo image by suggesting he hitched a ride on a mail train to meet his dying hero Woody Guthrie. And The Clash were more than aware that by exaggerating bass player Paul Simonon's past as a skinhead football hooligan they were adding to their collective outlaw image.
The Hold Steady know the potential of myths too. Rumour has it that the group formed while watching The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, on DVD, wondering why bands didn't play that kind of music anymore. Cue critical respect and a thousand lazy comparisons to classic rockers such as Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. Yet, while there can be no denying The Hold Steady's debt to machismo-laced Americana, little has been said of their apparent taste for the late-Eighties college punk of Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney and The Replacements.
In fact, as The Hold Steady take the stage for new track "Constructive Summer", it's the ghost of heartfelt slacker rock that gets resurrected more than anything else – every broken character residing within Craig Finn's slurred lyrics clad in unwashed check and denim. It's these characters that make The Hold Steady so appealing.
Tonight there are songs about loose women and all-night parties. Were these heavy-rocking odes to debauchery played by a group of butch, tattooed, trucker-types, The Hold Steady would no doubt be subject to ridicule. The fact that they are performed by Craig Finn – a middle-aged man who looks and dances like a Jewish Alan Carr – makes all the difference. Every song by The Hold Steady is a mini-production in which Finn takes the lead role. He loves to play the borderline chauvinist in "Slapped Actress", mainly because he's clearly about as far away from that character as it's possible to be.
The proof comes on the title track of their latest album, Stay Positive, where Finn stands, microphone in hand, gazing earnestly at the crowd. Spilling forth his worries about getting old and losing touch with "the scene", you get the feeling that this is the real Craig Finn. Those beefy guitars, that fist in the air, those twiddly solos – all merely aides to their bankable "classic rock" image. After all, this band know the value of a good myth.
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