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A Mediocre Rage: Gabe on The Hold Steady’s Live Album

Posted by April 27th, 2009 No Comments »

Album Review
The Hold Steady – A Positive Rage

I’ve never seen a Hold Steady show, but I’m relatively confident that most nights it’s way more fun than A Positive Rage would suggest.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few outstanding tracks. The closer, “Killer Parties,” gets the full-on ’78 Darkness Tour treatment. Just like “Prove it All Night” from those Springsteen shows, “Killer Parties” starts with a lengthy rhythm intro, a guitar solo, and a story and then stretches out. It’s here that Hold Steady front man Craig Finn spits out his now familiar “there is so much joy in what we do up here” spiel. And, yes, even with his admission that he says it every show, it sounds just a little bit cheesy and manipulative. But in the context of the song itself it is true; there is so much joy in that track.

Unfortunately there’s not all that much joy to be found in the rest of the album, which was recorded on the Boys and Girls in America tour. Maybe I’ve just listened to that album too many times, but the only tracks from BAGIA that sound great on Positive Rage are “Girls Like Status” and “Citrus” (where Craig seems to be doing his best Shane MacGowan). The other BAGIA tracks I like (“Stuck Between Stations,” “Chips Ahoy,” “You Can Make Him Like You,” and “First Night”) don’t sound as sharp as on the original album. And I would have substituted “Hot Soft Night,” “Party Pit” and “Chillout Tent” for “Same Kooks,” “Massive Nights” and “Southtown Girls.”

I might just be bitter because there’s only one track from Separation Sunday, although the band sounds awesome ripping through “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.”

They also sound great stumbling and stuttering through “The Swish” and “Barfruit Blues” from Almost Killed Me. The lyrics on these are so wordy that Craig has to rush to keep up with the band, which makes them sound cool and sloppy.

The last stand-out track is “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” from the then-unreleased Stay Positive. Unlike the tracks from BAGIA, “Lord I’m Discouraged” sounds more raw on A Positive Rage than on the studio version. The outstanding storytelling (She says she’s sick/but she won’t get specific/the sutures and bruises are none of my business/this guy from the north side comes down to visit/his visits they only take five or six minutes) is backed by classic guitar rock track that could have been cut by Drive-By Truckers. (Pitchfork says the solo sounds like Slash but I say it’s more Mike Cooley.)

In his patter Craig mentions telling the truth several times. The truth, as I see it, is that you’re better off spending your money on the Hold Steady’s amazing studio albums and tickets to a live show than you are buying A Positive Rage. – (6/10)

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