I feel I must begin this concert review with a disclaimer: I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I have almost every one of his albums. I’ve seen him live. He’s pretty much my hero.
Bruce is what led me to The Hold Steady and its Boss-like lead singer, Craig Finn. Finn has such a Springsteen-ian growl that whenever I put on The Hold Steady, my friend asks me which Bruce song is playing (Good luck distinguishing the original “Atlantic City” and The Hold Steady’s cover.).
So when I saw The Hold Steady live at The Blue Note on Thursday night, I was expecting a scaled-down representation of E Street. What I got was something resembling a gang of alcohol clinic refugees.
A long line of Budweisers stood in front of an amp, waiting to be downed. Finn was the most visibly inebriated, stumbling onstage from the get-go and remaining noticeably buzzed the entire show despite drinking nothing but Diet Coke once it began.
In fact, he initially seemed to be out of control — he danced like a little kid, flung saliva with each word and grinned giddily at every break in the action.
Then it became apparent — Finn was actually in complete control. He was riding the wave of lust, angst and frustration perspiring from his story-bound lyrics. While Bruce is the epitome of disciplined raw power and emotion, Finn kept his endless moxie on a loose chain, holding it steady — if you will — enough to keep the sing-along crowd captivated. His spit was just him French kissing the mic in a glorious display of metaphor. His lack of sobriety took The Hold Steady’s status as America’s best bar band to a whole new level. And yet, even while Finn kept glancing at his band mates, seemingly stunned by the words that just came out of his mouth, there was still something E Street about the show’s character.
What Springsteen and The Hold Steady share is a phenomenal feel for Americana — weaving stories of boy and girl, of teenage parties, of summer nights. The Hold Steady’s Minnesota-based America might be a little more druggy than Asbury Park, but the matriculating nostalgia is always tangible. They have the extraordinary ability to simultaneously lure one into the ecstasy of remembered adolescence and the yearning to keep it alive. With each gruff narration, it becomes more and more apparent that The Hold Steady needs no “annual reminder that we can all be something bigger.”