Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Hold Steady (2005)

I first heard of these guys when they appeared on Smithwick's best of 2004 compilation. The album was Almost Killed Me, their debut, and the song was "Certain Songs". I liked it, but I didn't get really turned on to The Hold Steady until the following year, with the release of Separation Sunday.

Interesting story about Smithwick...I've only met him once, at Jud and Amy's wedding, but it seems like I know him better than that. After all, I've received copies of his last three year-end compilations, I've traded online barbs with him while debating the Hall of Fame worthiness of Steve Garvey, and I've heard Scott mention his name numerous times when telling stories about that infamous summer in Alaska. That probably stuck in my head simply because it's funny hearing Scott say "Smithwick".

But that's not the story. The first time I ran the New York City Marathon, in November of 2000, I was staying with Jud at his Upper West Side apartment. The Yankees had just defeated the Mets in the World Series and Jud hadn't spoken with Smithwick, a Mets fan, about it yet. While I was there, eating pasta, relaxing and hanging out with Jud, Smithwick called. He was trashed. Jud said something subtle about the World Series, and Smithwick proceeded to lace into him with an endless barrage of expletives. After a couple minutes of this, Jud handed me the phone, and Smithwick gave it to me as well. Of course, he doesn't remember this, but this was my first interaction with the guy.

Regardless, he gets some credit as the person who introduced me to The Hold Steady. Separation Sunday was an instant hit, and would wind up as my #7 album of the tremendous year that was 2005. Last year's Boys and Girls in America was a bit of a commercial breakthrough for the band, as it helped land them a spot in a Carnegie Hall Bruce Springsteen tribute concert. They performed "Rosalita", or so I've heard, following Jewel's rendition of "Born to Run".

Two of the members of The Hold Steady are in the baseball pool that Jud and I run annually. When John Agnello emailed to ask us if they could join, I was pretty psyched. Of course, this bumped John out of his spot as the biggest music industry name/pool participant. This also afforded me an opportunity to read a transcript of an email exchange among band members regarding the aforementioned Carnegie Hall show. Somehow Galen Polivka, the bass player, attached it to the end of the email he sent with his pool entry. Not sure how that happened, but I was happy to be privy to such information.

To me, The Hold Steady represent a fresh perspective on modern rock...bearing a slight resemblance to a lot of stuff I've heard before, but as a whole being unlike anything else out there today. Their lyrics also provide me a chance to live vicariously through fictional characters in a way that I previously only did through movies about decadent lifestyles. I guess deep down I really just want to be a gangster...that's gang-ster, not gang-sta.

Unfortunately, I'm yet to catch their live act, and it seems I've missed out on my chance to see them at a small venue. I procrastinated on getting tickets to a show at the Middle East last fall, thinking I'd have a softball playoff game that night, only to see our team make an uncharacteristically early exit. The next time they're in town, I'm sure they'll be playing some horrible venue like Avalon. Maybe as consolation I can weasel my way into backstage passes or something.

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