On June 29, 2008, boys and girls from all over America (quite literally) came together to see the exuberant Hold Steady in their hometown and the open air.
The McCarren Park Pool venue is a unique one, to be certain. The once-pool has been out of use for quite some time, and some promoters over at JellyNYC thought it would be a fitting place to set up a stage and invite a couple of thousand people out to play and hear great music. The show was free, as are most of the Pool Parties, and concertgoers were discouraged by neither heavy showers, lightning, nor thunder. Apparently there is absolutely nothing that can get The Hold Steady's fans down--especially not when they know they are just moments away from seeing their favorite band.
The Hold Steady has enjoyed a constant ascent to the top of the indie rock scene over the past several years, recording four albums along the way. Each album has its own characters and stories, but the messages remain the same. Guys go for looks, girls go for status. You can make him like you. Certain songs get scratched right in your soul. Ya gotta stay positive. It is those simple truths that have garnered the band a huge following. Maybe not huge in size compared to say, Radiohead's fan base, but huge in spirit, comraderie, and passion. The Unified Scene travels from all over to meet up at shows, with matching shirts that certain scene members front the money for, to have a couple of drinks or talk music with each other - everyone with the same thing in common - love for a band that has truly impacted their lives. At any Hold Steady show you can bet that you will see a bunch of nerds in matching shirts, forced forward into the stage or barrier, shouting lyrics and getting a glimmer in their eyes at the beginning of each song. The Unified Scene certainly made a strong showing at June 29th's Brooklyn show.
When the band took the stage, it was like coming home again. There is comfort in finding a band -and a scene- that makes you feel like you are home at last. The cheers were overwhelming. The setlist was absolutely conflagerant. Almost every track from the forthcoming CD, Stay Positive, and plenty of crowd pleasing back catalogue songs. With the sun just coming out after a rough day in torrential rain, there was a certain something in the air that infected everyone present-in a positive way of course. Screaming lyrics up to the stage with arms outstretched to embrace and be a part of something bigger, The Hold Steady's biggest fans exuded energy that enchanted press photographers, who took as many photos of the fans as they did of the band.
The entire band was on. Every song was performed to its fullest, with each band member feeding off of the crowd's energy in his own way. Close your eyes and imagine if you will: Craig Finn: spitting and ranting and singing, moving around the stage to have little dialogues in pantomime with the crowd. Tad Kubler: humbly accepting birthday wishes, rock solid soloing, facile fingers and a double-necked guitar. Galen Polivka: slumped and sweating, pounding out basslines with precision and animation, adding something new to each song. Franz Nicolay: shouting, grimacing, smiling, stomping, spinning, dancing, and making eye contact and singing with the fans. Bobby Drake: an anchor to the entire band, creating the entire texture of every song from the bottom up, blindingly precise beats. Seriously serious musicians. Friends and colleagues. It is pretty clear that not only do each of these men know exactly what they are doing, but they do it damn well together. The chemistry is incomparable.
In an interview just yesterday, The Hold Steady's frontman and lyricist, Craig Finn, said this, "Do I believe in the redemptive power of rock'n'roll? Absolutely. At its peak, played with the best intentions, it can be transcendent." Inadvertantly, Finn described the experience that the Unified Scene undergoes at every show, every venue, in every city, state, and country. As they start a huge tour again (after 200 shows last year), hitting Europe and the states, I once again encourage you not to miss it. It is truly one of the most euphoric things that a music lover can experience.