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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Hold Steady @ Turner Hall Ballroom

April 11, 2008

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While many of their indie-rock contemporaries remain mired in gloom and doom, The Hold Steady demonstrated with a sold-out Turner Hall Ballroom that there is still a place for fun in rock ’n’ roll. In fact, it appears as if the band’s genuine warmth and love of music has helped to grow an even larger audience. No longer just a secret among in-the-know hipsters, the group attracted a remarkably diverse crowd. And those in attendance saw a band at the height of its collective power.

In a live setting, it becomes clear just how indebted vocalist Craig Finn is to the world of hip-hop, as his sing-speak style becomes even more rap-like on stage. Finn improvised, experimented with timing and vocally reworked the band’s entire back catalog, giving many of the songs a feeling of freshness and vitality. Yet lead guitarist Tad Kubler made sure everything maintained a sense of cohesion. Kubler, who is quietly becoming one of the better guitarists in rock ’n’ roll, played with a sense of controlled exuberance, as his lead work in such songs as “Banging Camp” and “Same Kooks” showcased a level of creativity and skill that is often absent in indie rock.

All of these elements came together in a rousing version of “Stevie Nix.” Finn’s vocals skittered all over the place while the band locked in to a tight, rollicking groove. As Finn sung about his rather ill-informed decision to move to Minneapolis (“I knew Mary Tyler Moore/ And I knew Profane Existence”), it became increasingly clear how successfully the band marries populist appeal with punk-rock credibility. Some in the audience cheered at the mention of a television icon, while others screamed in appreciation at the reference to a somewhat obscure Twin Cities-based record label/punk collective. Pop culture and rock culture, the best work of The Hold Steady suggests, no longer have to be mutually exclusive. At the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday night, that revelation felt absolutely liberating.