The Hold Steady’s Finest Hour

It’s Friday and I’m still working my way through new albums by Pharoahe Monch and the Strokes (and preparing to run the fucking Warrior Dash tomorrow), so I thought it would be totally awesome to end this week by doing another installment of my new favorite Bollocks! feature.

The Hold Steady is tied with the National for being my favorite band working right now. I’ve mentioned them a million times on this blog and that’s because they make awesome rock music for people who read books and they successfully perpetuate the idea that rock ‘n’ roll is a valid form of spiritual practice. So if you gave me one hour to convince you that the Hold Steady is fucking awesome, I would drop the following tracks on you.

“You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With)” – This song is barely two minutes long but it rides a Tad Kubler riff that I can only describe as fat on a merry jaunt about playing the hand that you’re dealt, no matter how shitty that hand is (“I got stuck with some priss/ who went and sliced up her wrist/ but you know you gotta dance/ with who you came to the dance with”). This song is permanently on my mp3 player’s running mix (helpfully titled “Run, Fucker!”) because it makes me want to run around and rock out.

“Rock Problems” – You should just assume that every song on this list features a guitar riff, played by Tad Kubler (until there are statues of this man in every city, he will be an underrated guitarist), that will climb into your brain and fuck pure joy into your synapses. Because they all do. “Rock Problems” is from last year’s Heaven is Whenever, it’s kind of a sequel to “Most People Are DJs”, and it has a line about listening to Jim Carroll’s Catholic Boy and getting “hung up on ‘The People Who Died’,” which is an experience I have had many times myself.

“Your Little Hoodrat Friend” – This was my first favorite Hold Steady song and it opens like this: “Your little hoodrat friend makes me sick/ but after I get sick, I just get sad/ ’cause it burns being broke/  hurts to be heartbroken/ and always being both must be drag.” I wanna share a story with you about my friend Zac, who gets mentioned a bit around here. He got married a couple months before I did and his bachelor party was at a strip club in Portland. Zac slipped some dollars to the DJ and bought his way into getting a lap dance on stage, to this fucking song. It was, needless to say, a moment of tremendous pride for both of us.

“Most People Are DJs” ends with a guitar solo so awesome that they just had to cut the tape off and go into the next song (I saw them play it live once and they went straight into “Killer Parties”). This is a quintessential early Hold Steady tune (from Almost Killed Me), with its crashing drums and Craig Finn’s self-deprecating, self-referential, and just totally awesome lyrics: “Baby, take off your beret/ everyone’s a critic/ and most people are DJs” (Finn’s delivery of the last word tells you precisely how he feels about DJs). I’m not gonna say that you don’t like the Hold Steady if you don’t like this song, but there’s a strong correlation between believing this song is awesome and liking this band.

“Stuck Between Stations” – The Hold Steady knows how to open an album. “Stuck Between Stations” opens Boys and Girls in America with authority and some of Finn’s finest writing: “There was that night that we thought that John Berryman could fly/ but he didn’t, so he died/ she said, ‘You’re pretty good with words/ but words won’t save your life’/ and they didn’t, so he died.”

“Ask Her for Adderall” – A great song that didn’t quite fit on Stay Positive (though it was released as a bonus track for that album and for the live album A Positive Rage), “Ask Her for Adderall” might be the Hold Steady’s catchiest song, which is saying something. Later career voice lessons have really helped Craig Finn and “Adderall” has one of his finest melodies.

“Constructive Summer” is still probably my favorite Hold Steady song. For now. It’s got all the stuff I need in a Hold Steady song – a hard-charging Kubler riff, pounding drums (“like the drums on ‘Lust for Life'”), and the fucking truth: “Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer/ I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher” (also: “We are our only saviors”).

“Knuckles” – I’m not sure how many Hold Steady fans would put this in their mix if they were only choosing an hour of music by this band, but I fucking love this song, which features a pretty unreliable narrator (“the last guy didn’t die/ I just lied”) who’s just trying to get people to call him Johnny Rotten, but people keep calling him Freddy Fresh. But I do believe that “it’s hard to hold it steady when half your friends are dead already.”

“Girls Like Status” was a bonus track on like the Australian release of Boys and Girls in America, but it’s worth seeking out. The chorus goes, “Guys go for looks/ girls go for status/ there are so many nights/ when this is just how it happens.” But the best line is, “You want the scars/ but you don’t want the war.” I’ve made much of Tad Kubler’s badass guitar playing, but Finn’s lyrics are the best rock lyrics there are. Period.

“Banging Camp” – Separation Sunday was the first Hold Steady record that I owned, and it still has a very special place in my heart. “Banging Camp” follows “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” on the album, making for a one-two punch of epic awesomeness. “If they think you’re a Christian/ then they won’t send in the dogs/ and if they think you’re a Catholic/ then they’ll wanna meet your boss.”

“The Cattle and the Creeping Things.” While we’re on Separation Sunday, this song is a master class in clever references. “I got to the part about the Exodus/ and up to then, I only knew it was a movement of the people” is a Bob Marley reference, for instance. This is why I hate things like Train’s name-checking Mister Mister in that insipid “Hey, Soul Sister” song.

“The Weekenders” is all the things I’ve already said about awesome Hold Steady songs, but it has one of the best endings of any of their songs – “In the end, I’ll bet no one learns a lesson.”

“You Can Make Him Like You” – Sometimes the truth isn’t subtle. “There’s always other boys/ there’s always other boyfriends.” This is kind of an ode to feminine wiles that cautions that “it only gets inconvenient/ when you wanna go home alone.”

“Barfruit Blues” is another early song from Almost Killed Me, which is probably the Hold Steady’s most raw album (though it is still fucking awesome). I mostly just love the end of this song: “We’ve got the last call, bar band, really really really big decision blues/ we were born to bruise.”

“We Can Get Together” might be the sweetest song the Hold Steady has written to date, so much so that my wife and I included it as a slow dance for our wedding reception. And our programs had the phrase, “Heaven is whenever we can get together” on the front. My wedding was mind-blowingly awesome. The sentiment is correct and beautiful and if you think that’s cheesy, I can live with that.

“Yeah Sapphire” is another one of those songs that benefits from Finn learning to sing a bit. The melody is awesome, and that guitar riff is another feather in Tad Kubler’s cap (he’s gonna need a really big cap if I’m gonna keep handing him feathers for playing awesome riffs). I guess you’d call this a “deep cut” from Stay Positive, but it gets stuck in my head all the fucking time. Why is the radio too stupid to play songs like this?

“Stevie Nix” – Craig Finn is a great storyteller and Separation Sunday tells the story of a girl who becomes disillusioned with her local drug scene and disappears for a while (does she die? We don’t know), only to come back and tell the kids how a resurrection really feels. “Stevie Nix” is a plotty piece in the middle of that album, but it proves that a song can be raw and beautiful at the same time. When Finn sings, “Lord, to be 17 forever,” you know he means there’s only one way to do that.

So on the off chance (I hope it’s an off chance, anyway) that your Friday wasn’t quite awesome enough, try these Hold Steady songs on your headphones and let the weekend open up its loving arms to ya.

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Rocktoberfest Acht

So yeah, my friends and I, in a bout of total unoriginality, started this annual party called Rocktoberfest back in 2002. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of beer and friendship and meat and rocking until you break yourself. If that sounds childish and/or unimportant to you, maybe you should attend Rocktoberfest before you go judging things you don’t understand. Or maybe you’re humorless California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who doesn’t seem to like anything at all, especially if it has ever a) been in a union or b) been poor. But I digress.

This year was the 8th annual Rocktoberfest (Rocktoberfest Acht in German. So Achtoberfest, as my pal Jom pointed out while quite drunk) and we held it at my friend Badier’s mostly former house in Menlo Park, which is dangerously close to Stanford University. Having a massive party in a house that is mostly empty is definitely the way to go. Less shit to break.

I’d like to think that everyone who attends  our Rocktoberfest recognizes that, like Hold Steady albums and good beers, the most recent one is always the best one ever. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the haze of music, drunk, and smoke, I realized why Rocktoberfest feels like a holiday to those who attend it and, as a sort of bonus realization, why rock ‘n’ roll is not a terrible substitute for a religion (when it doesn’t suck, of course). Let’s deal with the last thing first: at its best, rock ‘n’ roll creates community. When you go to see your favorite band, you share in the pure joy of music with a roomful of strangers. The audience and the band are all plugged in to something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The potential exists in that moment to meet new people and make new friends. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you totally can. And maybe you should. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of an ever-expanding community that started with five guys in a house. Those five guys didn’t always get along by any means, but Rocktoberfest creates a unique present in which the past is mostly obliterated while people sing along to songs like “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand (modified by us so that the chorus is now, “This beer is out of control/ I’m gonna drink this beer/ drink this beer”) and “Holy Diver” by Dio (we poured one out for Ronnie James Dio this year). Sure, it’s silly. But what’s wrong with being silly?

What happened at Rocktoberfest this year was what I  imagine happened around Joe Strummer’s famous campfires at Glastonbury. Old friends met new friends, some of us had wives to bring, others had kids to leave at home. But for several hours of a Saturday, everyone was cool with everyone. For my part, I was deliriously happy. You can do this anytime you want, and you should. Gather your friends and some drinks and some great music, and celebrate your personal community. Rocktoberfest Acht was a reminder of why I love music and – more important – why I literally love a majority of the people I know. It’s not prayer and it won’t save you from much besides boredom, but it could provide you with one helluva a great night.

So, in the great words of Mr. Craig Finn, “Let this be my annual reminder/ that we can all be something bigger.” Go forward, kids, be awesome to each other, and rock the fuck on.

I Can’t Review the New Hold Steady Album

Why, you’re wondering, can’t I review Heaven is Whenever, the new album by the Hold Steady? After all, they are my favorite band. It would seem to be a natural fit: they put out an album and I tell you all about how wonderful it is.

But that’s exactly the problem. I’m not going to pretend that Bollocks! is ever (or has ever been) even remotely objective, but at this point me reviewing a Hold Steady album is like an alcoholic reviewing beer. Except the Hold Steady won’t fuck up my liver.

So there’s no point in me telling you that Heaven is Whenever, despite the departure of Franz Nicolay, is probably the best Hold Steady album yet (someone on the interwub claimed that Separation Sunday was the Hold Steady’s “peak” but that’s probably the drugs talking. The best Hold Steady album seems to always be the latest one, which is really an achievement. Almost Killed Me is a great record, and they’ve only gotten better since then. I keep waiting for the Hold Steady record that’s going to disappoint me and they keep not making it). Of course I think that. At this point, it’s in my blood to think that.

If you’ve read Bollocks! much at all over the last two years, you probably expect me to say that Craig Finn’s lyrics are sharper than ever (standout lines include, “You can’t tell people what they wanna hear/ if you also wanna tell the truth”; “Heaven is whenever/ we can get together/ lock the door to your room/ and listen to your records”; and the simple, probably true, “In the end/ I bet no one learns a lesson”) and that Tad Kubler is still the most underrated guitar player in the world (opener “Sweet Part of the City” even features slide guitar and it sounds sweeter than honey dripping from the vulvas of angels*) .

So maybe you should find another reviewer to give you the nitpicky stuff. Someone will try to accuse the Hold Steady of making the same album over and over (which they haven’t) and someone else will say Craig Finn can’t sing (he’s gotten a lot better since Almost Killed Me and Heaven is Whenever is his strongest vocal performance yet). Pitchfork thinks “these new songs just don’t hit as hard,” so you can go there and try to figure out what about Heaven is Whenever warrants a score of 6.2. (Parenthetical rant:  I’ve got serious beef with scoring systems in general. If someone can’t tell how you feel about a record by what you wrote, you did a shitty job of writing. Almost every website rates things with numbers, stars, or grades like “A-“, which is bad. But Pitchfork’s numbered rating system is by far the most pretentious, goofiest bullshit ever. What the fuck are they judging, figure skating? Did the Hold Steady not land their Salchows and Lutzes to your liking? I suggest a new motto for you, Pitchfork: “No One Skates a Clean Program. Except Radiohead”) Perhaps Pitchfork didn’t notice the additional (and quite welcome) harmony vocals on nearly every track or the fact that Heaven is Whenever is heavy on chord-based riffs but not as heavy on Kubler’s guitar pyrotechnics (though those do make some appearances as well) .

You know who you should read? Probably that Robert Christgau guy. He’s a real intellectual about this shit and he’ll probably give you some good copy on Heaven is Whenever. He’ll probably tell you all about what’s wrong with it, from start to finish. But I won’t. Because I love it. Would I sit here and tell you all the bad stuff (which is far outweighed by the skull-crackingly awesome stuff) about my fiancee? No. Because I love her and I’m going to marry her and if things don’t work out, I just might marry Heaven is Whenever.

On the bright side, Heaven is Whenever has done some brilliant housekeeping for me here at the imaginary Bollocks! office. I no longer feel compelled to compile a list of my favorite albums of 2010 this December. Heaven is Whenever is my favorite album of the year – I listened to it six times the day it started streaming on NPR’s website and at least twice a day since then. That was before the fucking album even came out! Now that it’s out, there’s not gonna be a lot of time for me to listen to other albums in my car. I might as well roll out a little red carpet that leads to my CD player and forget that my other albums even exist.

So does this make me a Hold Steady fanboy? Possibly. Hell, probably. But I’m not gonna run to your blog and tell you to kill yourself if you don’t like Heaven is Whenever (this happened to me once when I had the temerity to not like an album. I won’t say which album, but the band’s name rhymes with Shmortugal. The Pan). Whether or not you like this album is immaterial to the fact that to my refined, devilishly handsome ears, this album kicks several buckets of ass.

So what is it, you might be inclined to ask, that makes me like the Hold Steady so damn much? Glad you asked. They consistently scratch an itch that I have for fun (listen to “Rock Problems” and “Our Whole Lives” and tell me those aren’t fun songs), literate rock ‘n’ roll music. Craig Finn’s musings on death and religion are not that far from my own – I believe, as he has mentioned before, that we are our only saviors. In a godless universe, we have two powerful things to help us out: each other and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not Nietzsche, but it’s not the worst ethos in the world either. But more than that, the Hold Steady has taken the music I grew up hating (I call it Alcoholic Stepdad Music, which should let you know everything you need to about where I’m coming from), music I thought was for dead-end buffoons in dead-end towns, and they’ve spit it back to me as something uplifting, positive, and goddamn entertaining. “Beautiful” is not a word that a lot of people would use to describe the Hold Steady’s music, but it’s beautiful to me.

So no pretense here. In an era of completely bullshit objectivity, I came here to praise Heaven is Whenever. There is nothing I don’t like about this album and if that ruins whatever credibility you were lending me, I can live with that (what the hell were you doing lending credibility to a blog anyway?). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve only listened to Heaven is Whenever once today and that’s not nearly enough.

*If you’re unsure as to exactly how sweet that is, why not ask your reverend when you’re at church next Sunday?

The Songs of Rocktober 10 to 1

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Oh fuck yes, boys and girls. Today is the day of the bestest ‘Fest. Let us not delay, then, in getting to the ten most kickass songs of this most kickass month of Rocktober.

10. Dead Kennedys – “California Uber Alles” – If there’s only one person the Dead Kennedys didn’t like in the 1980s, that person was probably California governor Jerry Brown (or maybe Twinkie defense asshole Dan White). If there’s two people they didn’t like, they were Jerry Brown and everybody. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is probably one of the best American punk albums ever, and “California Uber Alles” is especially awesome for imagining a new-age fascist America headed up by Jerry Brown and patrolled by the Suede-Denim Secret Police. Better lock up your uncool niece.

9. Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows” – The Queens of the Stone Age fooled the radio into playing songs from Songs for the Deaf and the world was all the better for it. Still one of the heaviest songs (of the not-sucky variety; I’ll allow that Metallica might have a heavier sound, but I don’t find the sound of heavy turds pleasant) to creep onto the FM dial, “No One Knows” features some of Dave Grohl’s best drumming, recorded just as he lost his battle with lameness and slipped forever out of the Land of Awesome. It also features typical (meaning “badass”) QOTSA guitars and Josh Homme talk about how we get these rules to follow and pills to swallow and all that good stuff.

8. Elvis Costello – “Radio, Radio” – To prove he was not fucking around when he sang “I wanna bite the hand that feeds me” on “Radio, Radio,” Elvis Costello stopped the Attractions mid-performance on Saturday Night Live (I think they were doing “Less Than Zero”) and counted them into this song, thus guaranteeing that Lorne Michaels would pitch a fit and ban Elvis from the show. This did not stop Michaels from later saying that Costello’s performance was this iconic event for SNL. That’s because Lorne Michaels is a giant douche. “Radio, Radio,” however, is a prescient song, written in the late 70s about how shitty radio was in general, with some allusions to crazy right-wing talk radio thrown in for good measure. There was a time, apparently, when Elvis Costello knew fucking everything.

7. The Clash – “White Riot” – You gotta love Joe Strummer watching black people riot in the U.K. in 1977 and thinking, “Why don’t white people do that? What’s wrong with us?” “White Riot” is Strummer’s attempt to get the Caucasians in the mood to bust shit up. It ultimately failed, of course, but his efforts did result in two of the finest minutes in punk history.  And who doesn’t want a riot of their own?

6. The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer” – While I’m spreading the Strummer love here, I might as well point out that “Constructive Summer,” by the Hold Steady, is as passionate and fitting a tribute to the man as you could want. Over positively (see what I did there?) pounding drums, Franz Nicolay’s persistent rock piano, and Tad Kubler’s cranked guitar, Craig Finn orders us to “Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer.” Why should we do that, Craig? “I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher.” You know, Craig Finn, you might be on to something there.

5. The Stooges – “Search and Destroy” – Raw Power is one of the all-time greatest rock albums ever recorded and “Search and Destroy” is the track that gets that particular party started with a bang (or whatever sound napalm makes). Back in 1973, there were no Sex Pistols and no Clash, but the punk spirit was living large in the person of Iggy Pop (a.k.a. Iggy Stooge at that time) and his band of miscreants. Iggy was (and still is) actually a pretty good singer and he employs full-on vocal pyrotechnics, singing “Somebody save my soul/ baby, penetrate my mind.” That’s a dude asking you to mindfuck him and when Iggy asks, you answer.

4. The Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop” – I will argue with you or anybody that “Blitzkrieg Bop” is the best Side 1, Song 1 of all time. This was the song that launched The Ramones and, well, the Ramones. They were a band that didn’t have time to write multiple verses, but they did have time to get everyone pulsating to the backbeat. This would be a good lead-off track for your Rocktoberfest play list, what with the tight drum beat and Joey Ramone shouting “Hey/ Ho/ Let’s go” (or, ” ‘ey/ ‘o,” as he sings it). So let’s go, dammit.

3. Jim Carroll Band – “People Who Died” – Jim Carroll just died a few weeks ago, so if you’re ‘Festing to this song, pour one out for the man. Catholic Boy was a magnificent album and its best moment came with “People Who Died” which is exactly what it sounds like: a list of Jim Carroll’s friends who have shuffled loose this mortal coil. That could be morbid business, but the song is upbeat and insistent. Carroll’s buds employed myriad methods for exiting the land of the living, so you’ll never get bored: one guy overdoses on Drano (how much Drano constitutes an overdose? I’m guessing very little), one guy gets leukemia at age 14 (and looks like 65 when he dies), and someone jumps in front of  a train. Apparently, this song became a big hit after John Lennon was shot because it helped people deal with that numbing fact. That might sound kinda fucked up, but there’s catharsis in the irreverent humor of the song. I listened to it about a hundred times on the day Jim Carroll died. He was apparently just sitting at his desk writing. If I’m ever in a band again, I’m gonna rework this tune to include Jim Carroll, Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, and all the other awesome dead musicians. Who’s with me?

2. The Pixies – “Debaser” – Inspired by Luis Bunuel’s fucked up 1929 film Un Chien Andalou, (the bit in “Debaser” about slicing up eyeballs? They slice up a cow’s eye in this movie. I want you to know) “Debaser” is the best Pixies song. Period. (You don’t really think “Where is My Mind?” is their best song, do you? Why? Because it was in Fight Club?). Frank Black tears into the verse, exclaiming, “Got me a movie, I want you to know.” And certainly no Frenchman could declare “I am un” anything as assertively as Black declares “I am un/ chien!/ andalusia!” (Of course, the French dude would know to say “Je suis un” whatever, but I’ll let Black Francis slide on this one.) This is another breaking shit, bouncing around the room kind of song and I will never, ever (ever!) get tired of it. In fact, I’m gonna listen to it again right now.

1. The Clash – “Death or Glory” – If aliens landed here on Earth and pointed their lasers at my face, demanding to know, in four minutes or less, what rock ‘n’ roll was (we’re talking quintessence here – Platonic ideal shit), I’d play them “Death or Glory” by the Clash. This song has it all: an awesome guitar part, melodic bass lines, Topper Headon’s brilliantly textured drums, and some of Joe Strummer’s finest lyrics. The second verse is particularly instructive: “Every gimmick-hungry yob/ digging gold from rock ‘n’ roll/ grabs the mic to tell us/ he’ll die before he’s sold/ but I believe in this/ and it’s been tested by research/ he who fucks nuns/ will later join the church.” Nothing rocks like this song rocks. Nothing.

That’s it. Get out there and rock, revelers. Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer! And another toast to St. Jim Carroll and one to St. Joey Ramone. While you’re at it, raise a toast to Jello Biafra and Karen O. and every other awesome musician who is gracing your Rocktoberfest play list. And remember the wisdom of Mr. James Murphy: “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life.”

To sum up: These songs kick ass. These songs kick slightly more ass. These songs kick still more ass. These songs songs kick more ass than that. These songs kick ass and Henry Rollins is awesome. These songs kick ass but are just a minor threat. These songs kick ass and have pianos filled with flames. These songs, much like the Flaming Lips, kick ass. And Tom Waits is awesome.

A Positive Rage

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I was hanging out with some friends, not long after moving to L.A., perhaps late in 2006. My friends had discovered that it was fun to ask me about bands I hate because I tend to be somewhat discursive when it comes to disliking certain shitty bands. I lamented that I actually like a lot of music, but no one ever asks me about it (my musical pathologist friend thinks this is why I started Bollocks!). One of my friends, without missing a beat, said, “You like The Hold Steady. We get it.”

And you know what? I do like The Hold Steady. A lot. Because they’re the best rock band in America. Because Craig Finn proves that you can be smart and still rock out. Because Tad Kubler is the most underrated guitarist in rock. And because Franz Nicolay is… just fucking awesome. My band has worked up a pretty good cover of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” and every time we play it, I’m reminded that The Hold Steady is another reason (among many) that I want to be in a band, even if it never goes anywhere. They’re a reminder that rock ‘n’ roll can be amazingly cathartic and, in an age of grim-faced, humorless indie music like Morrissey and Interpol, The Hold Steady helps us to remember that rock ‘n’ roll is fun.

So maybe I’m biased going into a review of The Hold Steady’s first live album, A Positive Rage, but isn’t that why you buy live albums? The Pitchfork review of A Positive Rage whined that this album won’t win any new fans for The Hold Steady and I laughed when I read that line. If someone wanted to get to know The Hold Steady, I wouldn’t start them with a live album or even a live show. I’d start them with Stay Positive. Because the live stuff is for the fans.

The Hold Steady is pretty good to their fans. I’ve already praised them (many times) for releasing Stay Positive on their MySpace page when it leaked early and they play energetic and awesome live sets, always taking the time to thank their fans. So A Positive Rage is The Hold Steady’s little gift to us, a snapshot from their 2006 tour for Boys and Girls in America, that allows each of us to travel down our own personal memory lane and think about the shows we attended on that tour.

The Boys and Girls in America Tour was the first time I saw The Hold Steady. It was in Portland at Lola’s Room. And it was… fucking…awesome. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Craig Finn says in the liner notes to A Positive Rage: “I always think the Pacific Northwest is tough to play, partially because of their liquor laws, and the way club staff seems to delight in enforcing them. However, at Lola’s, the small room in The Crystal Ballroom, there seem to be no rules. It was easily in the top three wildest shows we’ve ever played, and we could barely keep people off stage enough to play our instruments.”

Yeah, I was one of those people. I was right in front, and when the crowd surged forward, I was propelled, head first, onto the stage. Craig Finn hit me in the head with his guitar at least three times. He asked me if I was okay once and by about time number three, he laughed and asked, “Why is it always you?” I couldn’t reply – too busy singing along. I left that show rung out like an old rag and voiceless and the next morning, I had delayed-onset muscle soreness in my back. My sister was going to meet me in Eugene for lunch the next day and when she called around nine in the morning, I couldn’t really talk. It remains, to this day, the best rock show I’ve ever attended.

So for me, A Positive Rage is a reminder of how fulfilling it is for me to see The Hold Steady. I don’t go to church, ya see, so rock shows fill the void. There are two bands I’ve seen that have made me vow to try to see them whenever they come to my town. They are The Hold Steady and My Morning Jacket. And it’s because those two bands give amazing live performances.

I guess I should talk about the DVD that accompanies A Positive Rage. It’s more of a tour diary than a documentary, but it’s still insightful as hell. The Hold Steady are as surprised as anyone about their success, and seeing Craig Finn say that he and Tad started the band as an excuse to get together, drink beer, and play music, it mirrors the ambitions I have for my own band (we aim high). They are regular guys who formed a band, had a good time, and ended up doing pretty well for themselves. I’ll drink to that.

Since their 2006 tour, The Hold Steady has only gotten more popular (they did a South by Southwest gig for Rachel Ray. Yeah, the cooking chick), though they’re still not gonna creep onto your mainstream radio and nestle themselves in between the Killers stupidly asking if we’re human or dancer and Coldplay whining about fixing you. But now that I think about it, that’s kinda too bad.  Because when I turn on the radio here in L.A., I get bored fast. And I never get bored listening to The Hold Steady. They were never designed to be the next Beatles (news flash – no one will be the next Beatles, so stop looking for it) but to their fans, they are an absolutely iconic presence. We turn to The Hold Steady for great rock ‘n’ roll and they are only too happy to deliver, time and time again. So the kids can have their Jonas Brothers and other people can pay hundreds of dollars to see U2 and Green Day play the stadiums, but when The Hold Steady comes to some smallish club in my town, I’ll be shelling out my 20 bucks to be right there with them, up to my neck in the sweat and wet confetti.