No Context: The Hold Steady at McCarren Park


photos by Rebecca Smeyne

The Hold Steady
McCarren Park Pool
June 29

Love the sly attempt on the Hold Steady’s “Magazines” to get New York involved in the band’s mythology: A familiar portrait of yr average HS Twin Cities barfly, unattainable, past her prime, but then Finn slips the nod in–“New York gets pretty heavy/Girl I hope it doesn’t crush you.” Their newest, Stay Positive, is out now, kind of. Certainly enough people at McCarren Park Pool knew the lyrics.

Mentioning New York in song may be the last thing these guys need–I’m thinking here of Jonathan Lethem, reporting back from Cannes in 2001 about the standing ovation Godard received for Éloge de l’amour, the guy looking “as tired as someone who’d borne the freight of so many expectations for so many years probably ought to look,” i.e. very. The band themselves looked a bit embarrassed at the messianic cards they were dealt yesterday: hours of rain and a hastily winnowed crowd turned to sun and an avalanche of returnees five minutes before Finn et al climbed onstage. “Hi, we’re the Hold Steady,” said Finn: “We’re gonna build something this summer.” And, like that, it was summer again, atmospherically, and the band was apologizing to the soaked opening acts for its own good luck. So when that New York line came around, you could see Finn sort of shrug and grin, fighting off that oncoming weight of having to be yet another city’s local prophet.

The new songs sound great, not that you doubted. I’ll put the last minute of “Yeah Sapphire”–the beseeching “I need someone to come and pick me up,” the slurry final chant of “I was a skeptic at first but these miracles work”–against anything the band’s done, crowd incitement-wise, anyway. On a day that doubled as guitarist Tad Kubler’s birthday, the band let him pull out the double-neck and gave him “the gift of soloing,” which my guess will be a feature of new HS shows all through this tour. The “November Rain” nods are getting harder to ignore, but then again, it’s just one example of how savvily the Hold Steady seize on things we shared in the past and rewrite them, with some scuff marks, for the present. I’ll spare everyone the discourse on the hardcore kid I used to be and the insanely apt way “Stay Positive” sums up how those years continue to hang around for those of us that lived ’em–suffice to say, when Finn hit that part about “We couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you,” I knew I wasn’t alone.

Oh, and speaking of which, shout to this guy.