And now, the Top 10 Gaining Google Queries for the Week Ending March 15, the day the Hold Steady’s debut disc, Almost Killed Me, was released: Iraq, Dish Network, spring break, Robert Pastorelli, Ides of March, Rachel Hunter, Leprechaun, NCAA brackets, Bertuzzi, Iditarod. In other words, murderous hockey players, dead sitcom supporting actors, Rod Stewart exes, and other quagmires. Hey, we didn’t start the fire. Which brings us to Craig Finn, the Steady’s gruff monologuist-guitarist and former frontman for Lifter Puller, who picks up where Billy Joel left off while his three chums chug beer, saturate the bottom, and propellers big chords and key changes.
What are Craig’s gaining queries now that Lifter Puller have bit the dust and he’s moved from the Twin Cities to our former home of the twin towers? Number one: social studies. In a fit called “Positive Jam,” the band revise America from the ’20s on, a couple cracks per decade—”In the ’90s we were wired and well-connected/put it all down on technology and lost everything we invested”—over a wistful guitar wiggle that, with the turn of the millennium, crashes and staggers until Craig urges us to “hold steady.” Besides yesterday, he’s got suburban geography on his mind: “Hostile, Massachusetts,” not Carolina or Iraq. That song’s restless medium tempo, a rant over basic bass-and-drums, then muted guitar, then a pick-drag down the neck into a chorus kick, flares up like malt liquor or methamphetamine in the blood outside of 7-Eleven. How’d we end up here, Craig’s asking—and how do we escape without leaving town?
Rhetorical question, unless you think drugs are the answer. Instead, he offers suggestions. Follow the name droppings and hear culture pop: Beverly Sills rhymes with Beverly Hills; a person at a party reminds him of somebody from Journey, Prince’s band, the Band, Scandal, Thin Lizzy, or Queen; celebrities big (hung Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi) and small (Jada Pinkett) pass his flashbulbs. So hit pause on your All-American Rejects CD. Partying in the Midwest or Massachusetts, we’re all American idols. As Craig puts it in this millennium’s best piano-rock-’em-sock-’em “Certain Songs,” a universal heartbeat of bass-drum thump and tickled and thunderous ivories: “She gets low in her seat when she gets high in her car/she looks shallow, but she’s neck-deep in the steamy dreams of the guys along the harbor bars.”Inside, Billy Joel’s on the jukebox.