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The Hold Steady’s New Equation

Posted by July 8th, 2014 1 Comment »

By Kevin Nelson

Two things define nearly every song in The Hold Steady repertoire—speak/sing vocals with incredible lyrics from Craig Finn and the thrashing guitar of Tad Kubler. Combine them, and you get The Hold Steady.

But, when you add a second guitarist, like the band did on its new album Teeth Dreams, you get a completely different equation. The addition of second guitarist Steve Selvidge helps to round out the band as serves as a cool counter to Kubler’s intense thrashing.

“I really think the back and forth between him and Tad’s guitars have defined the sound of this era of The Hold Steady,” said frontman Finn in an exclusive interview. Steve brings a new perspective and fantastic musicianship to the table.”

Selvidge no doubt aids in making Teeth Dreams into what Finn describes as the bands “heaviest and most guitar oriented record,” and even laughs at how this description applies for the band’s sixth album when most of the members are well into their 40s.

With that age comes new wisdom in Finn’s writing style. While previous Hold Steady albums featured an ever evolving cast of characters living out their small time crimes and victories, Finn decided to not make explicit references to Holly, Gideon and Charlemagne, the cast of characters from the first several albums and instead created “elliptical stories” where listeners can put themselves into the role of any of the nameless characters in the songs. Some of these characters might have similar backstories to Holly or Charlemagne, which adds an extra layer of fun for THS fans.  While this ambiguity might not be what made people fall in love with The Hold Steady on their debut Almost Killed Me, for this album, with the band’s age, it truly works.

As Finn describes it, “Teeth Dreams is a logical extension of the Hold Steady in 2014“ and fits all the tropes fans would expect from the band with the aforementioned evolution in writing.

Unfortunately, the actual production on the album leaves much to be desired. Finn’s vocals slam into the other instruments in an unsettling mish-mash of sound. This isn’t a slam on Finn, Kubler, or the rest of the band—they combined these elements so successfully on previous albums—but here, it comes across as muddled with the first eight tracks sounding nearly the same.

However, The Hold Steady is consistently described as one of the best bar bands in the world, whose live shows are a spectacle to experience. Their performances feel like a religious revival with attendees listening transfixed while simultaneously rocking out to the music. Teeth Dreams, the album, might have its issues, but when put out there live on stage, the album will have the capability to shine.

The band plays on The Neptune stage on July 18 with opening act Cheap Girls.

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