Down into single digits in my 379 to 50 top songs countdown, and it’s time to Hold Steady – with “Chillout Tent” from the 2006 “Boys And Girls In America” LP by the greatest live rock’n’roll band around.
And now we’re getting to the business end of my rundown, there’s going to be a lot of gushing praise forthcoming and none more than for The Hold Steady. I absolutely love The Hold Steady, who are still responsible for my favourite ever rock gig, the first time I saw them at the much missed Borderline on Sunday 18th February 2007. Newly obsessed by their breakthrough third album “Boys And Girls In America”, The Hold Steady had a reputation as a great live band but completely blew me away that night, as well as my two equally gig-hardened companions. And on a Sunday night too. The Hold Steady’s passion, energy and exuberant joy to be playing these fantastically loose but whipsmart rock songs transmitted itself so closely to an ecstatic crowd that, positioned right down the front in a sweaty basement, I just couldn’t stop beaming and nor could anyone around me. Some of this particular gig was featured in The Hold Steady documentary “A Positive Rage”, where I always enjoy picking myself out jumping up and down, lost in music.
I’ve seen The Hold Steady countless times since then (25+?) and they’re better than ever now, bolstered by the new energy that performing city residencies (rather than traditional touring) seems to give them. THS were actually the last group I saw live before lockdown – three nights in March for their third London Weekender event, with the Saturday night at the Electric Ballroom especially magical, but you don’t really get a disappointing gig with the Steady. I am indeed gushing now but the connection between the band and audience and an overall sense of community operates on another level with The Hold Steady, expertly espoused by superfan Michael Hann in this glowing recent review which also includes the interesting contrast of a Whitney Houston hologram show.
As well as being one of the finest live bands around, The Hold Steady boast a formidable back catalogue, especially their first four albums. Third LP “Boys And Girls In America” was their breakthrough record in the UK and probably most beloved, although second album “Separation Sunday” runs it close. The brilliantly titled “Almost Killed Me” debut dates from 2004, and so by the time fourth album “Stay Positive” was released in 2008, the Steady had released four peerless records in five years, hugely prolific by 21st century standards. Fifth album “Heaven Is Whenever” has its moments, but THS sounded slightly jaded on 2014’s “Teeth Dreams”. The return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay (who’d left after “Stay Positive”) in 2016 and the Steady’s aforementioned shift to playing city residencies seemed to re-energise the band, with a selection of individually released tracks later compiled onto 2019’s appositely named “Thrashing Thru The Passion”, the 10 songs holding up to the classic Steady sound.
So what is the classic Steady sound then? Most frequently compared to the Replacements and Bruce Springsteen, The Hold Steady winningly combine the rough and ready charm of an artfully ramshackle rock’n’roll band with frontman Craig Finn’s gutter poetic lyrics; erudite tales spat out about “killer parties”, “massive nights” and ageing (dis)gracefully. And crucially, they look and sound like they are having an absolute blast doing so. As for my favourite Steady song, “Chillout Tent” (the penultimate song on “Boys And Girls In America”) features a pair of guest vocalists as two festival casualties sharing a moment in the titular relaxation area, adding to Craig’s overlaying narration. A quite distinctive THS song – “Stuck Between Stations” is perhaps the quintessential Steady track and most representative introduction for newcomers – “Chillout Tent”’s unique triple vocal story telling approach, plus gliding piano work embellishing an irresistible tune, mark it out as a real favourite, even if it’s actually seldom played live. And so concludes my Hold Steady ode to joy: stay positive and thanks for listening, thanks for understanding.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “Chillout Tent” fan-made video on YouTube
- “Chillout Tent” live at Brooklyn Bowl, 2016
- “Stuck Between Stations” live at Electric Ballroom, 9th March 2019 (fan shot, filmed just in front of where I was standing at this gig)
- Bonus: “Stuck Between Stations” video
- Other great Hold Steady songs that just missed out include: Stuck Between Stations, The Swish, Stevie Nix, Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Sequestered In Memphis, Entitlement Crew.
- “Chillout Tent” is featured on my 379 to 50: 1 to 25 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Indie E to I Spotify playlist
- And also featured on my “Hold Steady Now” Spotify playlist (29 of the greatest Steady songs)
NEXT: NUMBER 8
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