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Arts and Entertainment

The Hold Steady @ The El Rey - May 31, 2007

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Last night at the El Rey, The Hold Steady did just that -- Not playing the coy, indie-nerd wallflowers and never crossing into absolute rock and roll mayhem, Craig Finn and the boys held the line, well, steady.

Looking like a more-hip Paul Giamatti and gesturing feverishly like a less-nebbishy Woody Allen, Finn led the charge with flails and jolts, hand claps for miles, and his frighteningly accurate, wholly incongruous, Springsteen voice. Mesmerizing. The band sounds older than they are -- probably the Thin Lizzy breaks and the E Street timings.

On keys and sometimes harmonica, Franz Nicolay noodled and tinkered while doing the best Ron Jeremy/Tweedle Dee/Charlie Chaplin imitation this girl has ever seen. And let’s talk about Tad Kubler's guitar solos -- they were everywhere -- and he was giving them away, like FREE STRESS TESTS on a Hollywood sidewalk. The two hour set was also punctuated with an occasional accordion interlude and many songs about girls, getting high, and the Mississippi River.

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About halfway plus through the show I believe the band’s drugs kicked in. Or wore off. I can’t say for sure. Opening loud and sharp, they gave us well-constructed precise, rock -- hospital corners, sing-a-longs, and shiny edges. The second half, however, was much more jammy, loosey goosy and a bit like watching you favorite band play the local bar. Of course, this is not a negative. My only real complaint about the show relates to the two, very tall, postfrat douches who yammered loudly throughout the whole performance while simultaneously obstructing my view with their unconsciously homo-erotic touching. I think they were lost.

Legend has it when The Hold Steady first started playing gigs in LA they rocked for audiences of eleven or twelve people in the Knitting Factory annex, and half-filled the Troubadour on a good day. However, on their sixth trip to our fair city, they sold out the El Rey. And they were clearly stoked, saying something to the effect of “I think we’re getting to know each other better.” Well put.