The Hold Steady are, on a good night, like the burger at Bonnie's Grill, on a good night -- an immensely satisfying rendition of an American classic that has been so thoroughly debased by bland institutional indistinguishability on the one side, and absurdly pretentious ritzing up on the other, that it's easy to forget what made it so appealing in the first place.
Last night in Prospect Park was a good night. The the huge crowd needed only the first whiff of the opening lick of "Stuck Between Stations" before crashing the gates and flooding the front section (which is ostensibly reserved for VIPs and "Friends of Celebrate Brooklyn"). Security didn't even try to hold them at bay -- they had their hands full dealing with the fans who could not suppress their urgent need to climb up on stage.
While I think all the "Minneapolis Springsteen" comparisons frontman Craig Finn garners are a bit overblown -- especially since he's actually more indebted to Paul Westerberg's songs of teenage awkwardness and alienation -- there's definitely something compelling and even a bit subversive about irresistible, anthemic fist-pumping rock songs that tell really sad stories. But Finn's nebbishy take on rockstar stage presence -- prowling and pointing and spitting out lyrics in bursts -- reminded me a lot more of early Elvis Costello than The Boss.
Dork that I am, I first heard about The Hold Steady not through the usual channels, but as "the rock band that Franz from Anti-Social Music is in." Some people are, apparently, bothered by the disconnect between his more hifalutin' musical endeavors and his newfound notoriety as the keyboardist in America's Best Bar Band™. Me, I can't imagine begrudging anyone that much fun.
More pics below the fold...