Boys & Girls In America
I’m sure of it: I’m the last dude in New York City to hear The Hold Steady.
Wednesday night’s Terminal 5 show — the conclusion of band’s sixteen-month Boys & Girls In America Tour — was packed with dudes: Budweiser chugging, hip flask tugging, tobacco chewing, weed smoking, fist pumping, frat boy, douche bags.
Or maybe that just describes the dude in front of me who I alternately wished great longevity for his rabid appreciation of the band and grave injury for his boneheaded, personal space-oblivious pogoing.
Not that I blame The Hold Steady. The Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis quintet’s raucous brand of indie bar rock seems tailor made for oblivious pogoing.
Guitarist Tad Kubler (who looks like a bloated Anthony Rapp) and rhythm section Bobby Drake (drums) and Galen Polivka (bass) are an agile trio. Kubler’s smart, sustained, chunky bar chords ably anchor the band’s sound: something akin to The Who meeting AC/DC filtered through The Replacements on an on night.
Front man Craig Finn looks a little like a younger, fitter Stuart Pankin, though his affect owes as much to Bruce Springsteen and Mike Ness. He prances and staggers around the stage, gesturing quizzically to the crowd, seeking response, and stabbing at his Gibson primarily, it seems for emphasis between long, wordy, almost spoken-word screeds on love, sex, and booze.
Keyboardist Franz Nicolay, though, is the band’s secret weapon. In addition to supplying a rich, propulsive, E Street Band layer to the songs, he’s a hoot to watch. In his black slacks, dress shirt and vest, Rawley Fingers mustache and fisherman’s cap, he looks like the lost love child of Charlie Chaplain and Zorba the Greek.
The band charged quickly into their set, chugging through hits “Hot Soft Light,” “Stuck Between Station,” and “Chips Ahoy” confidently before slowing down a bit with new tunes (which, thanks to our uber-information age, and judging by the sing-a-long choruses, were not new to many) “Stay Positive” and “Ask Her For Some Adderall.”
Finn’s lyrics are full of “He saids” and “She saids,” and apparently fixated on “drinking some more” and “getting high,” but somehow his song cycle still feels like a portrait or even some kind of mini rock epic about, well, boys and girls in America. Taken as a whole, the band’s oeuvre reads like a thesis: boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.
“She was golden with barlight and beer.”
“She was a damn good dancer but she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend.”
“If you get tired of the music he likes there’s always other boys.”
On this, the last night of the tour (and the night before Thanksgiving), the band looked to be relishing the end of a long, celebrated road. Finn stood center stage, grinning ear to air, tapping his beating heart with a clenched fist.
Neither the boomy, gymnasium-like sound nor the 6′ 4″, goateed whirling dirvish who obstructed my sightline no matter where I stood seemed to matter. As Finn says (apparently every night), “There is so much joy in what we do up here.”
Which explains, perhaps, why the boys to girls ratio was at least 10:1. All postures and blank glances, dudes (in general) lack in the joy demonstration department. Finn and Company, however, specialize in the stuff.
The band encored triumphantly, swigging and swaying through “First Night,” “South Town Girls,” and “Killer Parties.” And while the former sadly lacked the much-ballyhooed audience-on-stage finale, Eddie Argos and Ian Catskilkin of openers Art Brut made fine proxies for the rest of us.