Monthly Archives: July 2012

Grandaddy’s Lytle Preps New Solo LP

 

Meanwhile, the band
itself is doing selected shows starting next week.

 

Jason Lytle’s new album Dept Of Disappearance is set for an Oct. 16
release via Anti-Lytle, of course, first made an impact with his band Granddaddy.
After breaking up in 2006, the revered group has now returned for a series of
intensely buzzed about reunion shows which will be followed by Lytle solo dates
in the Fall.

 
As a solo artist, Lytle has built a catalog of inventive and evocative works. Dept.
Of Disappearance
follows up his critically heralded 2009 release Yours Truly, the Commuter.

 
Some details from the label: With a lab
full of burbling beakers, flasks and test tubes, Lytle’s records may have
permanently one-upped Stereolab for best employing the sound of chemical
experimentation and
Dept. Of
Disappearance is no exception. “I have a lot of gear, from conventional
and traditional to super-fucked and broken. And once those sounds get into the
computer, it opens a whole other realm of ‘tweakery,'” he says. 


 
The obvious home for Lytle’s latest feels like the silver screen. On “Last
Problem Of The Alps” he labored long and
hard to create, “a violent and howling blizzard on a dark and rocky
mountain top in sub-zero temps. And when I close my eyes, that’s exactly what I
see.” One of the album’s high points, “Your Final Setting
Sun,” is soaked in the indelible ink of “film noir.” Its
hypnotically dangerous vibe, says Lytle, comes from “the raw and unflinching
writings of Cormac McCarthy, whose sun-bleached, tough-as-nails characters have
a ‘this could be you’ feeling. It’s the one song on the album that had a film
playing along in my head as I was writing it. The chorus came to me while I was
driving down a deserted Montana
road into a beautiful and spooky sunset.”  

Lytle compares the songs on his new album Dept.
Of Disappearance to a roomful of
“strange, brilliant autistic kids with very peculiar social skills. But
there are a few conventional, good-looking ones who go out and shake hands and
get the good jobs. Then they come home and help take care of the other weird,
wonderful ones,” he explains. He then concludes: “Perhaps I will
figure it all out someday, but for now I’m OK with it still being one big,
elusive journey.”
  

 

Well, all right then!

Grandaddy Live Dates:

 8-8   Big Sur, Henry Miller Library
8-11 San Francisco, Outside Lands Festival
8-12 San Francisco, The Independent
8-13 Los Angeles, The Fonda

WHY? w/EP, LP, Tour

Details of ‘Mumps,
etc.’ LP, due Oct. + Ready ‘Sod in the Seed’ EP & International Tour.

 

As WHY? readies their first release since 2009, the ‘Sod in the Seed’ EP due out August 13
(EU) / 14 (US) on Anticon / City Slang, the trio announces details of their ‘Mumps, etc.’ LP, slated for October 8th
/ 9th, and plan their international tour with labelmates Doseone, Serengeti,
Jel, Sodapop, and more. You can check out an MP3 for the “Sod in the Seed”
track right here:

 


WHY? – “Sod In The Seed” by anticon

 

 

And also take a peek at a video for the album cover shoot
right here:

 

‘Mumps, etc.’ Album Cover Shoot.

 

 

 

Tourdates:

08-24 – Columbia, MO – The Blue Note *&
08-25 – Norman, OK – Opolis *&
08-26 – Santa Fe, NM – SOL @ Santa Fe Brewing *&
08-27 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom *&
08-28 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex *#
08-30 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^*#
08-31 – Arcata, CA – Arcata Playhouse *#
09-01 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom *#
09-02 – Seattle, WA – Bumbershoot Festival
09-03 – Boise, ID – Reef *%
09-04 – Salt Lake City, UT – In The Venue *%
09-05 – Englewood, CO – The Gothic *%
09-06 – Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room *%
09-07 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada *%
09-08 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center ^*%
09-09 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall ^*%
09-10 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom ^*%
09-11 – Ithaca, NY – The Haunt^*+
09-12 – Cambridge, MA – Middle East^*+
09-13 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall Of Williamsburg ^*+
09-14 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer ^*+
09-15 – Durham, NC – Motorco Music Hall ^*+
09-16 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle ^*+
09-17 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl ^*+
09-18 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge ^*+
10-05 – Dusseldorf, Germany – New Fall Festival
10-06 – Evreux, France – L’abordage
10-07 – Paris, France – Maroquinerie
10-08 – Brighton, UK – Old Market
10-09 – London, UK – Electric Ballroom
10-10 – Manchester, UK – Central Methodist Church
10-11 – Bristol, UK – Fleece
10-12 – Glasgow, UK – SWG3
10-13 – Oxford, UK – The Bullingdon
10-15 – Berlin, Germany – Volksbuhne
10-18 – Cincinnati, OH – Lois & Richard Rosethal Center for Contemporary
Art Black Box Theatre
10-20 – Pittsburgh, PA – Altar
10-24 – Richmond, VA – Canal Club
10-25 – Athens, GA – 40 Watt
10-26 – Jacksonville, FL – Jack Rabbits
10-27 – Orlando, FL – The Social
10-28 – Tampa, FL – Crowbar
10-29 – Tallahassee, FL – Club Downunder
10-30 – Mobile, AL Alabama – Music Box
10-31 – Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
11-01 – Houston, TX – Walter’s
11-02 – Dallas, TX – Sons of Hermann Hall
11-03 – Austin, TX – Fun Fun Fun Fest
11-05 – St. Louis, MO – Luminary Arts 
 
* w/Serengeti
^ w/Doseone
& w/DJ Tony Trimm
# w/dj sodapop
% w/Jel (DJ Set)
+ w/DJ Thanksgiving Brown 

 

Spin Magazine to Fold?

 

Scenario floated
whereby it “migrates online.” The good news: Kim Kardashian might finally get
that Spin cover she’s been coveting.

 

By Fred Mills

 

Longtime readers of Spin who have been perplexed, of late, by the music magazine stalwart’s recent
forays into faux-Andy Warhol’s Interview
Magazine
-dom (translation: short, incomprehensible music features bookended
by endless pages of some art director’s idea of fashion layouts, plus an
oversized, expensive cover format) while relying on the brand name for
rapidly-dwindling circulation stats, were still shocked yesterday to learn that
the 1985-founded publication had let go most of its employees and will be going
on hiatus.

 

According to the New York Times:

 

“Two weeks after its takeover
by an online media company
, Spin magazine’s future as a print publication
was cast further into doubt on Friday when 11 employees – a third of the staff
– were laid off and publication plans for the bimonthly magazine were
suspended…. The next issue, dated September/October
and featuring the rapper Azealia Banks on the cover, will come out in late
August. But according to a statement on Sunday by Spin’s new owner, Buzzmedia,
there will be no November/December issue while the company figures out what
form a printed Spin might take given the magazine’s expansion online. ‘Buzzmedia
and Spin are committed to moving forward with print, but we are still
determining exactly how print fits in with Spin’s multiple distribution points
and growth initiatives,’ the statement said.”

 

Just dismissed: Editor-in-Chief Steve Kandell and managing
editor Catherine Davis. (Those two positions are always the first ones to go
when print media outlets consolidate or circle the wagons, by the way.) Still
in the fold: longtime Spin-ster
Charles Aaron, the editorial director, and online ed-in-chief Caryn Ganz. The magazine’s
new owners have indicated that the online presence is to be beefed up as it
chases the ever-elusive online ad dollar.

 

 

 

Buzzmedia, incidentally, owns trend-seeking websites
Idolator, Stereogum and AbsolutePunk – plus, reports the Times, sundry celebrity sites – including a Kim Kardashian portal.

 

We can see where this is all headed…

 

Tom Waits Announces… Something?!?

 

Arrrr!!! Well, at lease we know SOMETHING is coming August 7 from the master media manipulator.

By Fred Mills

As hundreds of media portals are reporting right now, earlier this morning the Tom Waits camp sent out an email containing the above photo, plus the subject header “Tom Waits: Permission to Come Aboard.”

So there you have it. Let the speculation begin

OTC’s Bill Doss 1968-2012 R.I.P.

 

Co-founder of Olivia
Tremor Control passes away from causes as yet unknown.

 

By Fred Mills

 

This morning it was announced that Olivia Tremor Control
singer-guitarist Bill Doss has passed away, but no cause of death is known yet. A post at the band’s official website reads, “We are devastated by the
loss of our brother Bill Doss. We are at a loss for words.”

 

Olivia
Tremor Control was a key player on the Athens
scene’s Elephant 6 collective that also included Neutral Milk Hotel, whose Jeff
Mangum had co-founded OTC with Doss. It lasted from the early ‘90s until 2000,
yielding several records including the 1996 classic Dusk at Cubist Castle. The group subsequently reunited intermittently
for performances, and it’s been rumored that Doss had been preparing a new OTC
album for the near future.

 

Doss had
also done solo work and with a post-OTC band, Sunshine Fix.

 

SONIC REDUCER / CARL HANNI

 

Searching
For The Wrong Eyed-Jesus

 

By
Carl Hanni

 

In
2003 filmmaker Andrew Douglas shot this Southern travelogue featuring the
singer and songwriter Jim White. If you don’t know Jim White, you should: he’s
released a series of idiosyncratic records on David Byrne’s label, Luaka Bop,
including an early one from 1997 called The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted
Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
that led Douglas to
White in the first place. 

 

White
is to Americana
as Flannery O’Connor was to American writing: in it and of it, but with a
totally unique take that couldn’t be further from conventional twang and weepy
infidelity. His records are smart, literate, sonically adventurous, and filled
with voluminous, complex and overtly spiritual lyrical leanings, and have
absolutely nothing in common with either commercial, NASCAR country music or
straight-up Americana ala Lucinda/Dwight/Allison etc. It’s more akin to
Southern Gothic literature, as filtered thru the Carter Family and the Bible,
but played for a post punk audience. The man is a true original. He’s also one
of the best tour-guides a filmmaker (or an audience) could ever hope for.

 

I
don’t know what sort of a film Douglas set out
to shoot, but I’m willing to bet that he got more than he bargained for.
Whatever the original inspiration, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is
so perfectly pitched and so right in so many way that I need to be careful to
not go all hyperbole over it while still hoping to convey whys it’s well worth
one hour and twenty-two minutes of your time. So, I’ll just say it now: for
anyone with an interest in arcane American music and in the socio-spiritual-religious
fabric of the American South, you will be well rewarded. 

 

White
spent most of his childhood in the South, leaving as a teenager and returning
many years later after living and traveling all over the world. Beset with
mixed feelings about the South as a young man, he returns with fresh eyes. As
such, he comes back as a tour guide with a worldly perspective: “Until you get
away from it, you can’t see it.”

 

The
film opens in the Louisiana
bayou, where he picks up the right car to travel the backroads of the deep
South, a low-slung, white 1970 Chevy with big primer patches. Next he buys a
statue of Jesus, which rides, partially wrapped, hanging out of the trunk of
the car for the duration of the film. In a typically pithy exchange, the seller
asks for $500; White offers $60, and they settle on $65. Meanwhile, White’s
buddy Johnny Dowd plays a deathly dirge from the hood of a junker.

 

The
film is a journey into the deep vastness of the Southern spiritual psyche, and
White states his own right up front: “I’ve chose my divinity, rather than my
divinity choosing me.” But this is not an aimless narrative; it’s a series of
set pieces, cut in and through with musical interludes, as White stops to talk
to coal miners, bikers, evangelists and locals of all stripes, and makes
extraordinary trips into a prison, a couple of Pentecostal churches, a
roadhouse bar on a Saturday night and a truck stop diner dedicated to saving
souls. It’s beautifully shot and edited, with outstanding sound and not a
moment than doesn’t work. It’s just right.

 

The
appearance of Johnny Dowd, writer of songs of unmitigated starkness, is the
first of many by like minded souls. Eventually The Handsome Family, David
Eugene Edwards, Melissa Swingle, Lee Sexton, the Singing Hall Sisters, Johnny
Dowd & Maggie Brown and David Johansen all show up, and White throws in a
couple of numbers himself. But the first to make an appearance is the
formidable writer Harry Crews, dressed in black and strolling a bayou backroad
with a cane and a few stories to tell. Crews appears as a sort of swamp savant,
delivering stories and monologues with a delivery that’s simultaneously
inviting and intimidating, and cuts right through skin to the bone. You sense
that he could smell bullshit while asleep, and would not suffer fools or
phonies lightly. Some of it may be persona, but that makes it no less real, and
it’s fascinating and a little scary. 

 

David
Eugene Edwards (of the terrific 16 Horsepower) wanders in next, strumming
a  banjo and singing a spooky as hell version of “Wayfaring Stranger.”
It’s as backwoods as a front porch in a West
Virginia holler; moonshine whiskey practically sweats
out of the sky. 

 

And
with Dowd, and then Crews and Edwards, followed by the rest, the filmmaker sets
up a central mystery of the film that he toys with from beginning to end,
namely: how much of this is set up and choreographed, and how much is
spontaneous and unrehearsed? Things that first appear to be spontaneous –
Johnny Dowd strumming his guitar in a barber shop full of locals getting buzz
cuts – are revealed to be set pieces; a music video, basically. But how much?
Was it just invented on the spot, or written out in advance? Others, like the
scenes in the bar, diner, prison and churches, are clearly unrehearsed,
spontaneous, and shot with a hand held camera. Other’s seem to split the
difference. But it’s an interesting set-up that, whether intentional or not,
keeps us a little unsettled while in no way messing with the flow of the film.

 

 

Jim White, slumped in a booth, talking
to Johnny Dowd. “Whataya been doin’?”

Dowd: “Killin’ time.”

Pause.

Dowd: “It won’t die.”

White: chuckle. 

 

 

Douglas takes his camera into an
unnamed jail or prison. Everyone is skinny, white, and looks meth ravaged. He
gets the inmates to talk about their crimes, their time, their regrets, their
histories. The prisoners are hanging out, bored, restless, full of regret and
bluster, letting their guard down a little. Crime, to them, is just a way and a
part of life that they understand, or don’t. Opening line from an unseen
prisoner: “Its the bad. Bad’s exciting.” Later, White sums up the options
available to the restless and broke-ass in small town America: “Let’s
DO something, even if it’s something wrong.” You never see this kind of stuff
elsewhere on film. It’s incredibly sad, and moving, and a rare look into a
world that the outside world would generally like to forget about. Jim White
doesn’t forget about them. 

 

Next
up: The Handsome Family doing their catchy, minimalist classic “Cold Cold
Cold.” Are these guys down-home, or hipster faux down-home? Hard to say: he
looks hipster, with his tall hair, lip thatch and thick rimmed glasses. She
looks hipster in her thrift shop print dress. Can they hunt, fix a truck, cook
meth? Who knows, but boy they sure write killer songs and deliver them with
pleasing, molasses slow deliberation. They’ve got the stuff. 

 

Then
on to Slim’s, what White calls a ‘cut and shoot bar,’ hanging with the locals
on a Saturday night. What do the locals want to talk about? Sin and salvation, the
church and the bar, Jesus Christ, how great Slim’s is, the fraternity of the
local drinkers, what time they’re going to church tomorrow, how wasted they
are. White, meanwhile, has moved on to a drive in burger joint where he turns
eating an ice-cream cone into an entire small town sociological set-piece. I am
not, not, making this up. 

 

After
Saturday night comes Sunday morning, and one of the most remarkable pieces of
filmmaking you will ever be lucky enough to witness, as Douglas and White are
somehow able to film a service in a Pentecostal church. “Things happen (t)here
that defy explanation,” is how White sets it up. If you’ve never seen anything
like this before, it’s utterly mind-blowing. Witnessing a group of well
dressed, ordinary locals speaking in tongues, going into convulsions, weeping
and laughing hysterically, leaping and falling about, dancing and quaking and
shaking is something that just might change move your perspective a few degrees
in another direction. The band and choir, led by the preacher Rev. Gary
Howington, burns a white hot gospel rock beat, with multiple electric guitars
and crashing drums channeling and directing all the madness at their feet. I
defy you to watch this and not be moved in some way. White understands the
necessity of the church as an antidote to much of the outside world: “In a poor
world like this, gravity seems a lot stronger, it’s pulling you down, into the
earth, and everyday is a fight to not disappear.” 

 

And
his own divinity? He’s “Looking for the gold tooth in God’s crooked smile.” Eat
that, Pat Robertson. 

 

And
then there’s a dark trip to Sheffield’s
roadhouse diner, where the sign proclaims Jesus Is Lord, and where the locals
trade morbid tales over bbq and catfish and hear of one sinners exit into hell as
he’s dying in prison. As White says, “It’s so wrong it’s right.” And also,
“These hills here are so full of spirit, no wonder everyone’s thinking about
eternity and hell.” And Crews: “The most ordinary conversation in the South has
a theological basis.”

 

There’s
more, lots more, including a stop at a coal mine where the resident banjo
picker, Lee Sexton, plays “The old, lonesome sound;” Melissa Swingle bending
some serious musical saw on “Amazing Grace;” and David Johansen and Larry
Saltzman in a hotel room busting out with Gesshie Wiley’s much revered “Last
Kind Words.” Dowd, The Handsome Family and Crews all make more appearances.
There’s also a scene with a tiny, rather remarkable looking tele-evangelist as
she appeals to everyone to save their souls before damnation is upon them. It’s
unsettling and absolutely mesmerizing. 

 

And
finally, as he drops his Jesus off along side the road somewhere and heads off
into the Southern night, White leaves us with a final pointed comment: “If you
want to know the secrets of the South, you’ve gotta get it in your
blood.” 

 

Your
wise blood.

 

 

***

 

Carl Hanni is a music writer, music publicist, DJ, disc jockey,
book hound and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ. He hosts “The
B-Side” program on KXCI (streamed live on Tuesday nights 10-12 pm at
KXCI.org) and spins around Southern Arizona on
a regular basis. He currently writes for Blurt and Tucson Weekly.

 

 

Video: New A City On A Lake (Alex Wong)

 

Provocative “Oceanside” clip comes
from Wong’s new album.

 

By
Blurt Staff

 

 

We
here at the BLURT security compound have been holed up and watching the new
video from A City On A Lake – which you may have heard is Alex Wong’s latest
project. The album was released on July 17 and the video/first single is “Oceanside.” The clip was
created by Lawrence Chen and Hagan Wong and features Mexican star – and
Wong’s touring keyboard player – Ximena Sariñana. Check it out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

According
to Wong, “The song uses the imagery of gated communities in Southern California as a metaphor for how we like to
create our own realities, keeping in the things we want to see and blocking out
the things we don’t.  The music video for Oceanside is a surreal journey through the
subconscious. I travel through a series of fantastical worlds, chasing the
unobtainable, with each seemingly happy memory just outside my grasp.

 

“I met the
directors Lawrence Chen and Hagan Wong through their work on Delta Rae’s “Bottom of
the River” video
(the single off the LP I produced for the
band).”

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Emily Raw]

Jesus, a new Sonic Reducer blog posted!

 

Carl Hanni finally gets religion, yo.
Starring Jim White, as seen in the film clip, below.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Longtime BLURT
contributor and blogger – and ace deejay and archivist – Carl Hanni has just
posted his latest “Sonic Reducer” essay. This time out he looks back at the
frankly brilliant Andrew Douglas film Searching
For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus
, starring songwriter Jim White and featuring a
cast of musical misfits that include Johnny Dowd, David Eugene Edwards and the
Handsome Family.

 

Writes Hanni, “I don’t know what sort of
a film Douglas set out to shoot, but I’m
willing to bet that he got more than he bargained for. Whatever the original
inspiration, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is so perfectly pitched
and so right in so many way that I need to be careful to not go all hyperbole over
it while still hoping to convey whys it’s well worth one hour and twenty-two
minutes of your time. So, I’ll just say it now: for anyone with an interest in
arcane American music and in the socio-spiritual-religious fabric of the
American South, you will be well rewarded.”

 

Read
the entire blog right here
– and meanwhile, check out a scene from the film,
below.

 

 

 

 

Report: Hold Steady Live in Northampton

 

July 18
at the Iron Horse in Northampton,
Mass., and it was a beefy mix of heat, crowd, and decibels. Opening act: Mount Carmel.

 

Text & Photos by Jennifer Kelly

The last time I saw the Hold Steady, they were holding down
the big room at Pearl Street, a venue maybe three or four times the size of the
Iron Horse. It looks, tonight, as if they’ve brought all the same fans and
crammed them into the smaller space. There are people in the balconies, people
on the stairs, people packed shoulder to shoulder on the floor all the way back
to the soundboard. I’ve never seen this many people at the Iron Horse at one
time.  Moreover, since the Hold Steady
seems to attract a disproportionate number of big beefy men, it’s extra crowded.
 It’s also hot.

 

But after a definite quiet period – during which Hold Steady
mainstay Craig Finn went off and recorded a solo album – it’s good to have them
back. “It’s good to see you’re back in a bar band, baby,” goes a line from “Bar
Fruit Blues,” an Almost Killed Me vintage song  sadly lacking this evening,
“It’s good to see you back in the bar.” But it is, indeed, good to see them
back.  

 

 

 

 

Mount Carmel, a sludgy, blues-y trio modeled on 1960s icons
like Cream, the Yardbirds etc., starts things off, the brothers Matthew and Pat
Reed on guitar and bass respectively, Kevin Shubak half hidden behind a
towering, cymbal-heavy kit of drums. They are engaged, when I arrive, in a slow
12/8 blues shuffle,  the sheer heaviness
of the guitar onslaught balanced, somewhat, by the soft, well-worn, fluttery
tenor that Matthew Reed lays over it. He sounds a lot like Jack Bruce, oddly
personal, oddly vulnerable above a ponderous, amp-fuzzed roar.

 

Mount Carmel is from Columbus, Ohio, one of the epicenters
of lo-fi, and managed through a connection with Mike Rep to gain the attention
of Philadelphia’s Siltbreeze label (another linchpin in the lo-fi scene), and
yet there is nothing especially fuzzy or indie about their sound. They sound,
instead, like one of the big blues-rock bands from the 1980s – Humble Pie,
maybe, if not Cream – and are fond of the big, shreddy guitar solo in a very
unpunk way. They play “Rooftop” off their Siltbreeze debut Real Women, a swaggery, riff-driven bit of blues swagger, that cuts
to almost nothing, just the chink of high hat going zzt, zzt, zzt, zzt, and
then they all come in on the dime with a 1970s arena-sized guitar riff. “ZZ
Breakers,” next, is dirtier, grittier, ballsier, bisected with a harrowing
guitar solo and softened, just a little, by Reed’s lost, octave-jumping croon
of “please, please, please…don’t bring your troubles to me.” They close out their
set with a blistering, hard-kicking “Livin’ Like I Wanna,” with its
blast-furnish blares of guitar and bass and drum all together, riffs that smash
into walls, do the dead stop, step back a pace and run right into them again. It’s
a pretty strong set, not that different from the territory that Howling Rain
works, but very raw.

 

***

 

It takes the Hold Steady a while to set up, the guitar tech
tuning each of seven guitars, plugging in gear, taping set lists to flat
surfaces. There are some cool guitars – a white Strat with a cartoon Teddy Bear
painted on it for Finn, a small, graceful Les Paul Gibson for new guitarist
Steven Selfridge, a red one for Tad Kubler. It’s not Sonic Youth’s rack of
instruments, but still definitely bigger than it used to be. And then the band
finally arrives – Selfridge (who joined after Franz Nicolay left) and Galen
Polvika on the left, drummer Bobby Drake in back, Finn up front and Kubler way
off to the right and in back.

 

They start at what I think of as the very beginning, the uneasy
strum and surreal poetry of “Positive Jam,” which set off the whole enterprise,
back in the early 00-days when you still had to say “They used to be in Lifter
Puller,” when talking about The Hold Steady. It’s a brilliant introduction to
the band’s combination of intricate lyrical bravado and the biggest classic
rock riffs you ever heard, and the crowd goes into a frenzy when the words stop
and we all wait for the giant, club-shaking power chord that breaks the song in
half. Then everyone’s bouncing up and down and mouthing the words, and the
first three rows in front have started that bizarre mirroring phenomenon where
they imitate every gesture that Finn throws at them (mostly pointing).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The energy stays high with the four-on-floor battering of “Cattle
and the Creeping Things” off of the Hold Steady’s second album Separation Sunday, a stomping,
celebratory version of “Sequestered in Memphis” (Finn making air quotes around
the phrase “I went there on business”) and a floor-shaking chords and classic
rock flourishes (I’m hearing Thin Lizzy here and elsewhere) of early hit “The
Swish.” The thing that’s cool and sort of inexplicable about the Hold Steady is
the way they balance nerdiness and bravado. Finn looks like the kind of guy who
would get beat up by the big jocks crowding towards the front, yet he’s playing
them like a puppeteer. “I know you’re pretty pissed, but I hope you’ll still
let me kiss you,” he sings, a line from “Magazines,” and you totally believe
the insecurity, even blown up as it is in the grandest kind of rock excess.

 

The Hold Steady will be recording album number six in September, so they have some new song to try out. The
first is “Look Alive,” about, as Finn explains, the vagrants of his native Minneapolis’ Lake Street, who dress,
for whatever reason, as cowboys. The song is built on a hard-edged,
funk-into-hard-rock riff that reminds me, vaguely of “Walk This Way.” It’s
socially conscious, aware of income inequality and other forms of unfairness,
but not in any life-affirming “Blowin’ in the Wind” kind of way. “Keep us
floating above/the dick who makes us nervous,” says Finn in a break between
guitar riffs, and he’s got white, middle class guilt in two lines. Later on,
the Finn introduces “Teeth Dreams,” with a rambling explication of dreams about
teeth falling out (it has to do with money anxiety) and a caution that, “But
this is about other people’s teeth.” The song, like “Look Alive” seems harder
and rougher than the (to me disappointing) last album, a good sign maybe that
the band is back on track.

 

Then it’s back to older songs – “The Sweet Part of the
City,” “Constructive Summer,” “Chips Ahoy” and “You Can Make Him Like You” –
and to finish the first set, a long, wonderful version of “Your Little Hoodrat
Friend,” which Finn splices in half with instrumental vamp and a little talk
about how he was born in Northampton
and still had family there.   And then
it’s one more rough-housing run through of “hood rat” and the main set ends.

 

The encore is three songs, “Massive Nights”, “Stay
Positive,” and “Slapped Actress.” These latter two have massed, wordless
vocals, which, by this time, the audience is singing louder than the band in
the kind of ecstatic, group mind-meld that ought to happen at shows more often,
but rarely does. It is, indeed, one thing to start out with a positive jam,
another thing to see it on through. The Hold Steady is at the top of its game
live – can’t wait to see how that translates to the next record.