The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady's frontman Craig Finn lived in the Minneapolis area before relocating to the mean streets of Brooklyn. Minneapolis is relatively sedate. Brooklyn is rough and tumble. Finn (and the band's) creative spirit took Brooklyn's day-to-day and cut it with Midwest references and styles associated with homeland groups like Husker Du and The Replacements.
Finn and Tad Kubler were in a band called Lifter Puller (terrible name) that mutated into The Hold Steady (much better). The group's debut album, '04's "Almost Killed Me," created a bit of a buzz - critics liked it. The group even landed on the cover of The Village Voice. Sophomore effort "Separation Sunday," was a loose concept album based on a character named Holly and her quest to find a balance between Catholicism and Rock n' Roll through drugs and a metaphorical resurrection. Good luck with that. Despite the dubious premise, the NY critics once again jumped on board.
The Hold Steady moved to Vagrant Records for their third album "Boys And Girls In America." The CD sold over 50,000 copies which was more than the first two albums combined. The higher profile earned the group Blender's 2006 Band of the Year award. Then another, larger magazine, Rolling Stone, chimed in ranking the album #8 on their Best Albums of 2006 list. "We'll stay on the road for as long as possible," said Finn at the time. "So we don't have to go back to real work."
Not ones to forget their roots (in addition to Finn, Kubler hailed from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area), The Hold Steady recorded a version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" for the seventh inning stretch at Minnesota Twins games.
The group returned to the studio or rather studios, in Hoboken and Queens, to lay down tracks for "Stay Positive." Finn was quoted saying the album "captures a band hitting their creative peak, as well as enjoying each other's creativity and company." Kubler took a little different tact to promote the album. "There are some bands that do five records that all sound similar," said Kubler. "We've tried to avoid that."
Playing off the title of their previous release ("Stay Positive"), The Hold Steady issued "A Positive Rage," a two-disc live set and documentary. The '09 effort featured a number of songs that originally appeared on "Boys And Girls In America."
'10 started a bit shaky with Nicolay's departure. "Franz is a real ambitious guy, and I think he wanted to do a lot of different things, and we want to really follow this one Hold Steady thing to its logical end," said Finn. "It was an amicable departure, and I think we all wish him the best." Dan Neustadt replaced Nicolay and the group added guitarist Steve Selvidge. "Heaven Is Whenever," the group's fifth full-length studio album, dropped a few months later. Neustadt left after the album was recorded.
"We are rolling without keys right now," explained Finn. "We did some shows without keys and we really liked it. It sort of opened things up for us. We have two pretty amazing guitar players in our band, and it's really fun to have that space and spread out."
While that was going on, Finn took advantage of the downtime to record his '12 solo album "Clear Heart Full Eyes." "I wanted to do something with a little more storytelling and a lot less volume," stated Finn. Produced by Mike McCarthy, the album debuted at #89 in the U.S. The track "Rented Room" was listed as the 40th best song of '12 by Rolling Stone magazine.
The Hold Steady recorded "The Bear And The Maiden Fair" for the TV series Game of Thrones and contributed "Criminal Fingers" for '13's Record Store Day. Though Selvidge was on the "Heaven Is Whenever" tour, the latter track marked his 'official' recording debut with the band.
"Teeth Dreams" dropped in '14. A number of the songs were written during sessions in Selvidge's hometown of Memphis. However, the album, produced and mixed by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice In Chains, Deftones), was recorded and mixed in Franklin, TN making it the group's first album made outside of the NYC area.
Finn resumed his solo career in '15 when he released his sophomore set "Faith In The Future."
Trivia Note: The Hold Steady has played at least one show in all 50 states.
2004 Almost Killed Me
2005 Separation Sunday
2006 Boys And Girls In America
2008 Stay Positive
2010 Heaven Is Whenever
2014 Teeth Dreams
Craig Finn Solo Albums:
2012 Clear Heart Full Eyes
2015 Faith In The Future
The Hold Steady have been called a 'bar band'. While that term implies a certain looseness and rough edge it sells the group short. They aren't necessarily a "thinking person's bar band" (that would be the kiss of death), rather they are a "play the hand you're dealt" bar band. Finn sings of people who have gone sideways or fallen over backwards. There are few success stories - moments at best.
Critics have called out similarities between The Hold Steady and Bruce Springsteen. But The Boss' '70s material sounds positively slick (even optimistic) by comparison. The Hold Steady go for the jugular and rarely ease up. They lack a certain melodic flair but compensate for it with drive.