Aah, the Hold Steady... subject of many and varied musical disagreements between Rachel and myself. Having only picked up on them a month ago, I checked out their MySpace, picked up the CD, and found some joyful anthemic driving rock, in a Buffalo Tom meets Replacements style, with the deep voice of a Bob Mould-alike on vocals. Rachel, however, just heard the slightly countrified lilt of the rock, plus the rambling vocal style and keyboard high in the mix, and came up with Hothouse Flowers!
Thus it was that I found myself alone driving to Oxford, parking up and hitting the amply-full venue towards the end of The New York Fund's set. A Scottish band, they peddled a well-received countrified rock, standard but quite good, and were joined by various members of the other 2 bands for their last number, to note the last night of this tour. Main support the Chicks followed in short order. A young smartly dressed 5-piece from New Zealand, they looked like a young Stacy Jones fronting the Click Five, but played a plodding, primitive blues that made their compatriots the Datsuns sound positively sophisticated!
But if it was raw, ragged and elemental we were looking for, we were in for a treat. On promptly at 9.30, and enjoying the rapturous reception from this sold-out crowd of indie kids and oldies like me (!), Brooklyn's The Hold Steady kicked into the type of raucous rock set that totally and utterly encapsulates my love of this stuff. A glorious, euphoric, red-wine fuelled cacophony of noise, riffery and brain-drilling hooks, featuring random, stream of consciousness vocals from former Minneapolis native Craig Finn (aah, so that explains the Bob Mould vocal style!), an urgent, insistent stage presence throughout. Having been knocking around in various bands in the past, they're intent on enjoying their time in the limelight, combining this sense of history ("We saw Bad Brains in the 90's - watching the current hardcore bands after that is like watching your mate hit on a woman that doesn't want to be hit on; embarrassing for all concerned!") with the innate dynamic enjoyment of, say, The Gentlemen.
Virtually all of the current CD got an airing, although opener "Stuck Between Stations", a raucous statement of intent, and an anthemic "Chillout Tent" were my highlights of a 1 1/2 hour set that positively whipped by in a blur of riffs, red wine and mania.
I was disappointed by the bouncer ushering me out afterwards, just as I'd struck up a conversation with impressively mustachioed keyboardist Franz, a drunk yet affable Lou from "Rescue Me" lookalike. Nevertheless, this didn't overshadow a simply superb evening from a great new NYC band!