Bandleader Craig Finn doesn't look like a rockstar, and his baritone vocals wouldn't get him past the opening rounds of American Idol. Finn's true strength lies in his storytelling, from its rhythmic delivery to its numerous literary allusions. He spins lovesick tales for the English major in all of us, and he does so with the confidence of a slam poet.
The Hold Steady's recent Boys and Girls in America is noticeably bigger, slicker, and more produced than any of its predecessors. Any such album runs the risk of alienating the band's original fanbase, but this acoustic show at Castle Clinton proves The Hold Steady is still the same group beneath all that fancy studio work. Like an unplugged version of the E Street Band, they pound their acoustic guitars and upright pianos with self-assured gusto. Horns chirp, accordions bellow, and Finn stands at the stage's lip, commanding the band and the audience like a ranting, bespectacled conductor. There's a reason The Hold Steady has been causing a stir in the music scene, and this is it.
- Andrew Leahey
Vocalist/guitarist Craig Finn formed the Hold Steady in 2000, after moving from Minneapolis to New York City. Wanting to capture the sound of bands such as the Replacements and the Grifters, he recruited guitarist Tad Kubler, drummer Judd Counsell, and bassist Galen Polivka. The newly-formed band released its debut, Almost Killed Me, on Frenchkiss Records in March 2004. Dave Gardener (Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu) and Dean Botulonis signed on to produce Separation Sunday, which arrived in 2005. The World/Inferno Friendship Society's Franz Nicolay (keyboards) and Bobby Drake (drums), formerly of End Transmission and Arm, were also added to the Hold Steady lineup. The band's third effort, 2006's Boys and Girls in America, marked their first release for Vagrant and their biggest record to date.