Ah, the bar band. You know the type; they’re loud, they’re chanty, and they’re ready to dish out a guitar solo at the drop of a hat—or a shot glass. They represent the working-class man. And, more often than not, they can deliver a mean Foreigner cover before last call. In short, they’re the kind of music makers we critics love to hate, designed as sonic serving devices for drunks and folks who don’t recognize a classic-rock rip-off when they hear one.
But then there came The Hold Steady, a group created, conceptualized, and more than willing to take their cues from The Band. (Legend has it that a viewing of The Last Waltz was the catalyst for their 2003 start.) They aim for beer-lifting, fist-pumping sing-alongs, and yet they rarely stumble into the land of Van Halen copycat. And most importantly, their live show (in particular, last Friday’s set at Velvet Jones) only works to further validate their worth.
Before a sea of fans—some local, some far-traveled, some buzzed, some sober—the Brookylyn-based five-piece tore through more than an hour’s worth of raw, guttural rock ’n’ roll with an intensity and tightness that matched most studio rock outfits, packing in hooks, licks, and keyboard scales by the truckload. Just as he promised, frontman Craig Finn led his cohorts through a maze of career-spanning tunes. There were newbies, like the fast-paced “Rock Problems” and the waltzy “We Can Get Together” from the recently released Heaven Is Whenever. There were The Hold Steady classics like “Stevie Nix” and “Barfruit Blues.” And there were highlights aplenty, like the super-bluesy “Southtown Girls” and the hilariously spot-on “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.”
Through it all, Finn epitomized the rock ’n’ roll frontman, raising his hands, spitting his lyrics, and offering up his mike to the crowd just enough times to make it special. Needless to say, when he urged the crowd to “Stay Positive” late into Friday’s set, every pint glass in the place was raised high, and prepped to be emptied long before Finn hit the “ooh ooh, oh oh” chorus.