Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stay Positive

It’s no secret that I have somewhat of an unhealthy fixation with the Hold Steady. Since Ryan Shadrin leant me a copy of Pleased To Meet Me in high school, Minneapolis has been the Fertile Crescent for music as far as I’m concerned. Since then, cities like Chapel Hill and Austin and Athens have tugged at my heartstrings, but the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have always played a ridiculously important part in my life.

I had always dug Lifter Puller, but after they played the closing shows at Brownies, Craig and Tad dropped off the radar for me. A couple people had mentioned Boys And Girls In America to me as a record they thought I should check out and eventually Christian ended up sending me a copy of the record at work. When I threw it on and heard the piano part opening Stuck Between Stations I had to get up and ask Heath if they were actually serious with the Springsteen jocking. As the first verse came in, Craig clubbed me over the head with his line about girlfriends that were cool to kiss but not all that great as girlfriends. That hit close to home. That night, when I got back to the apartment I had just moved back into after an absurdly toxic stab at cohabitation, it was down to bare bones. I had the essentials: the stereo, a camp chair from Keri, and two Minneapolis records: the Off With Their Heads Hospitals EP and Boys And Girls In America. Various combinations of those two records were played over and over in the weeks before the rest of my records got out of storage.

Cue a ton of shows behind that record where I discovered both the joys of a five beer Hold Steady show and the pain of the most fervent fingerpointing I’ve engaged in this side of a Dillinger Four show. I had to stop dating at HiFi, especially when Galen was bartending, as I always found that I’d rather listen to him or whoever else from Team Steady was there. I got down with the Unified Scene kids and since then I have had a bunch of great (albeit hazy) times in a lot of cities. There’s been the small matter of too many photos and videos of some old guy waxing rhapsodic at the shows popping up on the net, but I hear that that’s getting under control.

I got a leak of the record maybe six weeks ago and I fell for it like it was a short-haired brunette on a track bike. Craig had said it would be called Stay Positive, a nod to his hardcore roots and a view from an aging guy who still loves rock and roll. I do, too.

Kath mentioned the Randy Newman connection after I sent her the last record and it’s really apt. Frankly, it kills me that I didn’t make the connection my own self, but I take small consolation in knowing that the force is strong in my sister. The Hold Steady really are the E Street Band fronted by Randy Newman. That’s the type of bastard offspring we need more of.

Boys And Girls was a pretty enormous pair of shoes to fill, but Brooklyn’s finest have maybe even trumped it. It’s really only the lack of another three-way with Dave Pirner and Elizabeth Elmore that keeps maybe in the equation. Where do you start on the things that ring my bells? Is it the Breaking Away allusion on One For The Cutters? Maybe the fact that Craig insists on referencing Dillinger 4 on every record and this time around it’s fucking doublewhiskeycokenoice? Oh, boys! You do spoil me. And that only really covers the first three songs.

Stay Positive is really a remarkable record. The songwriting is top-notch, both with Craig’s lyrics and everyone else making the racket. Franz gets a lot more room to flex his skills, busting out mean harpsichord and harmonica in addition to his usual amazing piano and accordian. Koob makes his Jimmy Page turn here and commits his best recorded solo yet in the stellar Lord I’m Discouraged. I defy you to find a better one this year. You know where to find me. Prove me wrong.

Zeppelin has always played a big part in the Hold Steady sound. I introduce their cover of Hey Hey What Can I Do into evidence. For most bands, venturing into that territory is not a good idea. You may remember Duran Duran and Thank You, although I pray no one other than Mike Marciari does. I will give him a pass, but anyone else who can condone such behavior should be held in serious question. That The Hold Steady succeed with the Zeppelin pastiche that is Joke About Jamaica is a true testament to the power the boys wield.

Then there is Magazines. If there is ever a chorus that resonated for me, it’s that song. It’s songs like that that make me almost believe there are stronger forces at work in the universe. If the boys released a seven-inch with Magazines and Modesto’s Not That Sweet on the b-side, then broke up, they would still decimate 98% of the competition. Oddly enough, a good part of that remaining 2% guest on Stay Positive. Patterson Hood and Ben Nichols both sing back-ups and Doug Gillard and J. Mascis drop by for some steel-string slinging. None of them is essential to the record, but their presence is worth it for sheer mojo alone. A Unified Scene, indeed.

The crowd is an integral part of that scene and it’s a pleasure to be a part of the mob that’s crammed up against the barriers with a finger in the air. The boys are on tour, back in town to play Letterman (link) . They’ll be back in town soon enough and there are rumblings of a three-way extravaganza in the works with one, if not both, of the bands that some of the aforementioned guests play in. That, my friends, bodes well for some great nights and shitty, dehydrated mornings. I, for one, can’t fucking wait.



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