No mere disc, audio or visual, could adequately capture the sweat-drenched, infectious joy of The Hold Steady live, but A Positive Rage has a damn good go. It couples a complete live recording of the band’s Halloween 2006 show at The Metro, Chicago with an hour-long documentary about the Boys and Girls in America tour. Together, they portray a band on the cusp of breakthrough success with their finest album to date.
The Hold Steady Live at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 15/12/2008. Photo by Lee Allen.
The Hold Steady don’t just recreate their albums live, they tear down the wall between performer and audience, grasping every song tight and wringing as much passion out of them as possible before charging into the next one with increasing gusto. There’s an instinctual ebb and flow, a shared on stage experience where everything is faster, looser, wilder than on record. Franz Nicolay’s keyboards give the songs that oft-mentioned E Street groove, while the rhythm section inject ferocious energy. Craig Finn is a man possessed, dancing, running on the spot and opening his arms to the crowd, pulling them in to every note and word as they hit home.
The setlist of A Positive Rage is sure to please fans, taking in early favourites and the majority of Boys and Girls in America, an album where the band perfectly balanced lo-fi punk energy with classic, anthemic rock structures and lyrics that managed to tell stories with a distinctive point of view but which, on tracks like ‘First Night’ and ‘You Can Make Him Like You’, had universal appeal. They work because we’ve all felt the rush of youthful adrenalin mixing with intoxication and passion: people have embraced The Hold Steady because Finn is writing songs for them, about them. The set ends with the one-two whammy of ‘Girls Like Status’ and ‘Killer Parties’, a monster jam loaded with rock melodramatics, at the end of which he declares, “we are, and more importantly, you are, and we all are, The Hold Steady”. Amen.
Funnily enough, the liner notes for A Positive Rage, recollecting his memories of the 2006 tour, were written by Finn in an “awful after work pub in Wolverhampton”. When combined with the documentary, they pinpoint a monumental, defining moment in the band’s career. He admits they have had to calm down some since then, with the behind the scenes operations becoming slicker as the venues get bigger and the inevitable march of age, but it hasn’t dulled their evangelical belief in the power of rock ‘n’ roll to transport and excite.
The stunning photographs above are by West Midlands based photographer Lee Allen. Click them for more examples of his up-close and intimate band photography.
Stream: ‘Chips Ahoy’ at MySpace