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>Boys and Girls in America – The Hold Steady

23 February, 2010 Leave a comment

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Moving away for a time from the established classics, this album just had to be in my top ten.  The Hold Steady are one of my favourite live bands, and this is their best album, capturing the joy and exuberance of the band perfectly.

The themes are not new – largely focusing on relationships, drink, drugs and the Mississippi River and the recurring characters Charlemagne, Gideon and Holly.  The songs are wordy – and spoken rather than sung – but with fantastic, complex interplay between the guitar and keyboards that suggests Born to Run era Springsteen as much as anything else.

My first exposure to the album was live, in a muddy tent on a cold, rainy June day at Glastonbury.  They warmed my heart, and continue to do so.

The lead-off track, ‘Stuck Between Stations’, gives my blog its title and my phone its ringtone.  How much more can a song be loved?  And how many other songs have the wit and intelligence to reference both Sal Paradise and John Berryman?

Whilst there is something incongruous about a bunch of, er, geeks in their mid-thirties singing songs about teenage lust and drug experimentation (“…it started recreational, it ended kinda medical…”), somehow it all just works.  It’s almost a self-help guide for teenagers (“You don’t have to deal with the dealers, let your boyfriend deal with the dealers”) that neither preaches nor judges – but celebrates that all too brief period in your life when all you have to worry about are girls, boys, music and your narcotics of choice.

As they sang on another album, “Oh, to be 17 forever…”

This song is about art, it’s about love, it’s about depression, it’s about alcohol, it’s about faith….

If I was ever lucky enough to have been in a rock and roll band, this is the band I would have wanted to be in!

Categories: the hold steady

>Day 179: Chips Ahoy!

10 September, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: The Hold Steady – Live at Lollapalooza 2006

Chips ahoy in the bathroom today, as I started my re-tiling project. Today was about taking off the ill-fitting tiles, salvaging as many as I could for re-tiling, and preparing the underlying wall ready for re-tiling.

I don’t know who did the original tiling, whether it was the original builders (my guess) or people who owned the house before us, but whoever, it was a botch job even I would have been ashamed of. One section of tiles had bowed out away from the wall, creating a ridge above the sink that was looking more and more unstable. My solution – to take out all the unstable tiles and to re-tile, using as many of the original tiles as could, avoiding the need to find matching tiles somewhere. Inevitably some of the tiles were going to break in the removal process (although not as many as I thought would, I managed to salvage most of the tiles I took off) so the plan is to put up some mirror tiles above the washbasin, to replace the frankly cheap looking mirror that’s been hanging there since we moved in.

My main concern was the state of the wall underneath the tiles. Re-tiling I can cope with – levelling and replastering a sagging wall is a step too far for me. Happily, the wall underneath looks sound, flat and dry – it is just the tiles that are (were) a mess.

Having got the tiles off – I needed to remove around thirty tiles in total – I got the sander ready. I’ve got one of these Black and Decker Quattro things, which really is the ultimate boy’s toy – drill, saw, screwdriver and sander all in one bright orange battery-driven thing. On with the sander attachment and the next thing, I’m whipping up a dust storm in the bathroom. I’m still staggered (and secretly quite proud) just how much mess I managed to make! Of course, I forgot to take all the stuff off the bathroom shelves before starting, so everything got completely covered in the plaster dust (including me – any one would have thought I had grey hair…).

Having got the wall into a satisfactorily flat, loose plaster-free state, it was time to get the Dyson out. Happily the beast coped admirably with all the dust, tile chips and general detritus I’d created and I’m now ready for Phase Two of Project Retile – cleaning up the ‘saved’ tiles, removing all traces of old grout and adhesive before sticking them back up again. Oh, and trimming the tiles where necessary so they actually fit on the wall this time!

Note the quality of the shower rail, by the way…

However, we’ve a couple of days of nice weather forecast, so Projects Mow The Lawn and Clean The Driveway might have to take precedence…

Next, it was on with the breadmaker to make the dough for tonight’s pizzas, to be consumed whilst watching the England game. I’m not quite sure why, but it’s become customary to eat pizza when watching football on the telly at Waring Towers.

Not that I’m complaining, you understand.

And bugger me if England don’t do a demolition job on Croatia. It would be tempting to assume this was because Croatia were awful – and they were – but I have to say that England went about their business efficiently and effectively. Robert Green played well in goal (when he had to), Aaron Lennon made the right side of midfield his own, Gerrard and Lampard proved they can play together if they re told what to do and are disciplined enough to do it, The Boy buzzed around and Barry held it together in front of the defence. If I was being picky, I would point out that Emile still couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, and Glen Johnson is a decent winger but a crap full back – but you can’t argue with 5-1 and a place at the World Cup with two games to spare.

Of course all the commentators and media are beginning to talk up our chances of winning the whole thing, thereby putting the pressure onto the team that will ultimately be self-defeating – although you do feel that Capello is less bothered with what the media think, or demand, than any of his predecessors. And that might just be the difference this time.

Hark at me. I’m doing it now.

I make no apologies for The Hold Steady coming up on the soundtrack again – I love this band. This album is an eMusic download that I think is unavailable elsewhere, a live performance recorded in between Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America. And it’s as sloppy, shambolic – and uplifting and joyous – as any other Hold Steady performance. You must see this band live – they will change your life. You will run away to Minneapolis, drink too much, get high too often and ultimately drown in the Mississippi River.

Probably. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.

‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’ is one of their best ‘early’ songs and ticks all the boxes – getting high, self-harm, unfulfilled sexual needs – and the obligatory mention of the Mississippi.

And as Craig says – “Damn right I’ll rise again!”

>Day 24: Stay Positive!

8 April, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw

Spent a large part of the day pulling together the paperwork for an insurance claim relating to my current situation – got the last piece of paperwork I needed from the Jobcentre yesterday, so today was all about checking and re-checking that all the information was there, scanning everything to ensure I had a complete record of everything that had been sent, then off to the Post Office to get the bundle of documents sent Special Delivery to make sure it all reaches its ultimate destination.

Had my first response to a job application today – not the response I wanted as I was not even shortlisted for interview. Disappointing, as I think it is a role that I would have been well suited for, but I think demonstrates the need to be more focused and tailored in the applications I make to ensure that my specific talents and ‘fit’ for the role comes through more. This was an application I submitted some time ago, while I was still working, so probably dashed it off a little bit quicker than I should have done. But you learn as much (if not more) from your failures as you do from your successes, so we move on.

And you Stay Positive – which as well as being the lesson for today, is also the title of the last studio album by the wonderful Hold Steady. Their latest disc (called ‘A Positive Rage’) dropped through the letter box this morning, a live album stemming from their 2006 tour of the US, in support of the ‘Boys and Girls in America’ album. Accompanying the CD is a DVD, including a documentary made during the same tour.

Those of you who have been around since Day 1 will already know that this blog takes its title from a Hold Steady song that has a lot of resonance for me – see here. They are a band that I’ve grown to love over the last couple of years – I saw them for the first time at Glastonbury in 2007, where they lightened the mood of a very wet and dismal Friday with a performance that just about blew away everyone else I’d seen that far. I’ve seen them twice since, in Liverpool later that year, and also in Manchester last December. Both times they just confirmed my belief that they are one of the best live bands around at the moment, not least because they actually look like they are enjoying themselves on stage, and want the audience to enjoy themselves as well.

Here they are performing ‘Stuck Between Stations’ on TV (is that Letterman?) in the
States.

I think you’ll agree they’re not the prettiest of bands, and Craig Finn is clearly not a classically trained singer, but it’s the rough edges that make the band as likeable as they are…and the feeling that if Craig Finn can do it looking and sounding the way he does (sorry Craig), then there’s hope for all the other rock band wannabes out there – me included!

All of which should not detract from today’s soundtrack, which is provided by Nottingham’s Tindersticks. ‘The Hungry Saw’ was one of my favourite albums of last year and is worth investigating further. Deceptively laid back, the album covers a number of noirish themes, but the overall melancholy feel of the album is leavened by the quality of the singing and the strong melodies of each song. Stripped back, but compelling, the album suits quiet contemplation in the early hours, probably nursing a single malt.

Here’s an acoustic version of the title track for your delectation.

So all about music today I’m afraid – I spoiled you with the soup recipe yesterday (which was delightful, you’ll be pleased to hear) so no recipes today. However Mrs W and I have been planning for Easter and I shall be experimenting with a fish bake over the holiday – so watch this space!

>On the road and getting high….

2 September, 2007 1 comment

>The band I’ve been listening to more than any this year is The Hold Steady, a Minneapolis band who’ve been touring their latest album, Boys and Girls in America, all summer. I have to admit I’d heard nothing of them until this year, when they started getting a bit of press on the back of the new album and their allegedly excellent live act. They were playing the John Peel tent at Glastonbury this year, so I thought I’d check them out. The fact they were playing in a tent, under cover, out of the rain and mud, was also a factor in my decision.

Anyway, they completely blew me away. I have to say they’re not the prettiest bunch, or the youngest, and the combination of singer Craig Finn’s somewhat geeky looks and keyboard player Franz Nicolay’s Daliesque moustache, waistcoat and cloth cap doesn’t really work on paper, but in the flesh it all just comes together perfectly. At Glastonbury, their performance glowed – gallons of enthusiasm and sheer joy at being there performing. Finn’s engagement with the audience was total and the songs’ subject matter – one variation or another on ‘getting high’ – fit perfectly with the (albeit slightly damp) festival vibe. Also saw them a month or so later at the Academy in Liverpool, where they were equally entertaining, although constant gigging in the previous month or two has perhaps taken a bit of the edge away from the enthusiasm. Or perhaps Glastonbury was just perfect.

So thought I’d best invest in a few CDs. The third and latest album, ‘Boys and Girls in America’, has been getting the bulk of my attention and rightly so, eleven slices of indie pop perfection centred around the joys and perils of getting high in the Twin Cities area, coupled with a few Kerouac references for good measure. Add some Springsteenesque (actually ‘EStreetBandesque’) keyboards and one or two ‘Woah-oh-oh-oh’ singalongs and you have the perfect blend. Highly recommended.

The band’s other two CDs haven’t had as much attention thus far, although the second (‘Separation Sunday’) currently edges it over the Nicolay-less first, ‘Almost Killed Me’. I have also downloaded a couple of albums from Finn’s previous band, Lifter Puller – will report back when they’ve had a bit more airtime.

Lord, to be 33 forever…..

Categories: music, the hold steady