In Finn Form: The Hold Steady Reaches a High Bar

Craig Finn, left, and his band mates in the Hold Steady.
Craig Finn, left, and his band mates in the Hold Steady. (By Bob Strakele)

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Brooklyn quintet the Hold Steady has perfected its brand of indie rock by way of Asbury Park, bashing out bar band anthems that sound so fantastic on record, there was every reason to expect that when played in an actual bar, the songs would be taken to new heights. So when the group turned in a merely great and not transcendent performance at a very hyped and sold-out Black Cat Saturday night, it proved one of the best disappointing shows in recent memory.

"Stuck Between Stations" and "How a Resurrection Really Feels" were indeed powerhouses that had many in the crowd raising a glass in salute. The big riffs and pulsing organ provided the backbone, but it's the singer -- make that ranter -- Craig Finn who gives the band its identity.

He spews tragicomic tales of hood rats, burnouts and skaters, their journeys through relapse and recovery, and he was in top form from the onset. Finn's enthusiastic, nasal delivery was accentuated by his busy hands and contorted facial expressions. Even when he was away from the microphone, his mouth was constantly motoring.

The band slipped some soft rock into the set list with the schmaltzy, piano-heavy "First Night," one of the few missteps of the evening. Like a few other songs on the new CD, "Boys and Girls in America," it's a more direct rip-off of classic rock, lacking some of the humor of the band's earlier work. "Party Pit" had more teeth to it, but when Finn led the crowd through a fist-pumping singalong of the line "gonna walk around and drink some more," it felt dangerously close to self-parody.

The festive atmosphere was impossible to resist, though. "There's so much joy in what we do up here," Finn told the audience toward the close of the set, and when dozens of audience members joined the band onstage at the end of the encore, that joy was plenty apparent.

-- David Malitz


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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