The Hold Steady
@ Leeds Cockpit
Having blessed support band, I Concur, with crystal sound, the Cockpit endows The Hold Steady with muddy thumping and toppy, important but unintelligible vocals. It's a shame, since a good deal of the appeal is the snappy witticisms and cynicisms of the semi-rapped material. Fortunately enough of the sold-out crowd have the back catalogue and mumble along.
Even in the first song I can hear bits of the inevitable Springsteen comparison in the instrumental break. There's a particular musical mannerism they have that fits the rhythms of 'The Boss'. Happily, they avoid the father / son stuff and keep a distance. For their second tune they offer up the current single - Chips Ahoy - grabbing recognition and winning a couple of hearts. Their front -man is visually a sportscaster / Groucho Marx Woody Allen hybrid, his hands a maelstrom of storytelling. The bass rolls and rocks around in a flurry of hair. The keyboards are manned by a strangely mustachioed and flat-capped geezer. The whole image fits the tag 'Geek Rock'. There is something about the clever material and knowing nods and references that flatter fanboys that fits the tag too. I'm reminded of eighties bands with the same modus operandi - They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes, etc.
One song quickly follows another till I am caught by one with strong resemblances to Springsteen's Growing Up (Hard To Be A Saint In The City). Jittery guitar, melodic piano and the same vocal patterning make it unmistakeable. Many reviewers have been referring to the Boooce connection and I don't hear it in the debut album I heard so I hoped it was about an energetic performance, not the music. Though they work very hard and horse around onstage, they don't exude the magnetism I'd been led to expect. They don't let that energy drop and I hear stadium rock disguised as Indie (not that that's a bad thing....). At times it could be a young Woody Allen singing over Thin Lizzy complete with guitar strangling. The Hold Staedy tell punk tales of the street - "she said... There's going to come a time when I'm going to hae to go with whoever gets me higher" - harking back to Lou Reeds Berlin in subject material. What I was missing was variety; this is more a lyrics band and when they take a break before encores, the hour feels about enough.
Their return sees title track Boys And Girls In America follow the Lou Reed / Bruce Springsteen / Jesse Malin formula of "person X did Y, person Z did W". It's a winning recipe but a lazy one. BY now the front-man is looking more like an abashed Elvis Costello and it contrasts to a break into a stadium-style rockout guitar session before the fourth encore song and it is a thunderous noise that they can build to. They part with the message: "There is so much joy in what we do up here - I just want to thank you for being part of that joy".
A mixed experience. I'd like to have been able to hear the lyrics to get that engagement that I felt so immediately with their marvellous debut album. Without that they are an indie band fuelled on New Jersey's most famous export. Take a listen to the albums - you'll like them.