Home for the Holidays with the Hold Steady

The latest, greatest success from the Twin Cities returns to the wellspring of its creativity

He's a smiling fit of energy. He skitters from one end of the stage to the other, stopping at random intervals to hold his arms out to the crowd he suddenly owns.

When he's singing, he bobs a finger up and down like a ball bouncing on words at the bottom of a television screen. He sweeps both hands in an arc above his head and then behind his back, like he's pushing each sentence of frenetic narrative to the floor behind him to be trampled by his band and swept from the stage at the end of the night.

He goes hoarse shout-singing about the Mississippi River, but he pushes through it. For all anybody knows, he could be crying for this town.

Staciaann Photography

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In our expanded web section, you can hear the band, watch an audio slideshow, see photo galleries from their tours, and walk with us through Craig Finn's Twin Cities with an interactive map highlighting local lyrical references. Plus, a comprehensive collection of links and a timeline of the band's rise on our blog.

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But for every one of Finn's raw expressions of bliss, there are a dozen or more people in the audience aping him. That frantic clapping to no beat—it's happening all the way back in the balcony.

 

IT'S TEMPTING TO try to position the Hold Steady somewhere in the pantheon of influential Minneapolis punk and rock bands: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Soul Asylum and the rest, but the members of the Hold Steady left Minneapolis years ago.

Sure, the lyrics read like a not-for-tourists guide to the Twin Cities, and fans on both coasts wear Twins shirts and hats—sometimes even "full-on jerseys," according to Finn.

And yeah, Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner came to New York City last year to be on the band's third record (it's an odd match, but a notable tip of the pantheon-hat).

Still, the Hold Steady is not a Minneapolis band: They're a bunch of guys from Minneapolis, sure, but the Hold Steady is, and has always been, a Brooklyn band.

The band is back in Brooklyn now—the home they never write about. Kubler complains of a shaky re-entry. "I can't sleep now because I'm not moving. We got a glimpse of how the other side lives on this tour. It was a month of playing to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, everybody yelling the words to each song at you. Every night there is this surge, and now we have to put the brakes on and be normal. It's hard."

Immediately after braking in Brooklyn, there was a birthday party for his daughter. "It was all regular people with regular jobs," he says. "I felt like Bruce Dern in Coming Home when he's back from the war and can only relate to his army buddies."

So some of the band members gather at the cramped and narrow apartment of a friend—another Minneapolis rock-scene expat—and they watch the Vikings. Or they meet up at the Hi-Fi, a bar on Manhattan's Avenue A, where Polivka, when he's not on tour, makes drinks and keeps the snack bowls full.

Next week the band goes into the studio to start recording their fourth record in as many years. When the album is done, there will be more touring, and Kubler is looking forward to it with the mind of a manager. "Every time out, you want to project growth," he says. "You don't want to sell out the same place, you want to sell out a bigger place."

Finn has more modest ambitions: "If we stay on the road, we can pay our bills."

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