The Hold Steady, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Wednesday 23 February 2011
Someone walking in off the street might wonder at first what this camply flapping, foggy-spectacled, middle-aged nerd is doing at the microphone. But Craig Finn crosses early Woody Allen with early Bruce Springsteen.
His physical affectations compensate for his lack of actual insensate excess these days – toned down because "killer parties almost killed us," as he sings on "Stay Positive". The play-acting is anyway shucked off as his band The Hold Steady hit their greased groove, and remind you just how fine a thinking, dancing rock band can be.
Finn's jagged observational poetry majors in drugs, sexual realism and faith in rock'n'roll. Lyrical fragments fall out of the bar-band barrage as if overheard on the record-player that Finn's character, bloody-nosed Mary, makes skip. Lyrics evoke careening nights out in the band's Minnesota home state. "She's always funny in the mornings," goes one line, "She isn't always funny in the night." Some of the details seem improbably retro, like the florid, rock rumble couplets of Born to Run-era Boss. But then, I've never been to Minnesota.
The Hold Steady's faith in rock is a reaffimation for the older fans here, while the rituals are fleshed out for new converts. This thing is third or fourth generation now, and The Hold Steady don't hide it. Instead, like a great Western, they draw their strength from the tradition. It's more than pastiche however, because once this band make you move rock'n'roll becomes real again.
The Hold Steady take a running jump at "Rock Problems". There's a whiplash spark of electricity from a guitar before "The Weekenders", where a good-natured swirl in the stalls is fuelled by the band's snorting interjections. Though these songs have as mature a perspective on closing-time casualties as their sound does on rock music itself, what matters in the end is that The Hold Steady mean it and we feel it. Ultimately, this show is rock as an act of memory, and an act of love.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who left house after argument with her parents
- 4 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers