Saturday, May 26, 2018
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The Hold Steady: are normal guys with big sound

The Hold Steady's appearance at Headliners on Monday night is to indie rockers what the Eagles show at the Huntington Center last month was to folks who love classic rock:

A big deal.

The band's five albums filled with lyricist and lead vocalist Craig Finn's wild ruminations on Catholic guilt, Minnesota hoodrats, and Springsteen-like tales of misspent youth, are considered rock and roll manna for folks of a certain age who like their guitars loud and their tunes anthemic.

They have an everyman appeal, if every man was in a band capable of raising a huge, Zeppelin-like ruckus on stage fronted by a guy who looks like he should be sitting in the cubicle next to you at work figuring out why the copy machine keeps jamming. In a telephone interview Thursday, Finn talked about why the band's considered so "believable" by its fans.

"I think a lot of our crowd or audience can see themselves in us," Finn said "We don't look like Steven Tyler or something like that. We look like normal people. We are normal people. I mean I'm someone who turned 30 working in an office."

Over the course of its albums — the most recent is "Heaven Is Whenever" released this year — Finn and his mates, Tad Kubler, Bobby Drake, and Galen Polivka have told a vivid story with recurring characters who drink too much, ask a lot of big questions, and find themselves in some thorny, often chemically enhanced predicaments. The stories are backed by a raging rock sound, with the guitars cranked up to 13 and Finn shouting over the top of the noise, sometimes singing and sometimes basically just yelling.

The 39-year-old Minnesota native said he set out at the beginning of the band's formation in Brooklyn in 2000 to craft songs that were literate and had characters through which he could tell stories. Not surprisingly, two of his strongest influences are Bruce Springsteen and the Drive-By Truckers, both artists whose songs feature a strong sense of time and place in their music and use literary techniques in their songwriting.

"What it does is allow me to be a little more cinematic. People sort of expect songwriting to be really confessional, sort of the Jeff Tweedy thing, but if I was to write all our songs about my own life they'd be really boring," he said. "So it kind of allows me to get a bigger picture, bigger stories, with bigger highs and lows and still say something that myself and the average person can understand."

The approach sparks an intense devotion from fans who write things like Finn's lyrics are the "best description of humanity's existence in the 20th century" and "he's responsible for some of the most important lyrics in my life."

Finn chuckled.

"If you think too much about it's kind of overwhelming," he said. "It's kind of why you have to stay off the Internet. But it's good because you're touring and you're out away from your family and loved ones and it's good to know that you're making a connection. That's kind of what this is all about — trying to make a connection."

The band's concerts are notoriously rowdy affairs, with lots of beer slopping around and the band going for broke in every show. Finn, who was talking from Columbia, Mo., where The Hold Steady had a concert, said that's partly the result of the band's early years when they felt like every show could be the last one.

So, well, let's just say they didn't want to lose any chances to have a good party.

"Tonight I won't try to drink every beer in Columbia, Missouri," he said, laughing. "I'll save a few and then drink a few tomorrow night in DeKalb, Illinois."

He said the band is proud of its non-ironic stance and willingness to put on an old-fashioned joyful rock show that might not be technically perfect but one that will leave more than a few people walking out of the building knowing they saw something special.

"There's something celebratory about it," he said. "I mean, God, I can easily say that being lead singer of the Hold Steady is the best job I've ever had. So there are moments that you're tired or whatever, but this is a pretty good thing."

The Hold Steady will be at Headliners, 4500 North Detroit Ave., Monday night. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the opening act is Company of Thieves. Tickets are $15 in advance ($18 the day of the show) and are available at all TicketMaster outlets, charge by phone 1-800-745-3000,, and at Culture Clash, 419-536-5683, and Ramalama Records, 419-531-7625.

Contact Rod Lockwood at

or 419-724-6159.

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