Music / The Hold Steady

"I got bored when I didn't have a band, so I started a band, man. We're gonna start it with a positive jam."
Craig Finn, "Positive Jam"

''Your songs are known for their kind of narrative arc, they're stories, you have characters who recur, you're telling these stories about Minnesotans...You realize that you've become a kind of younger, hipper Garrison Keillor, don't you?"

A highly-acclaimed 21st-century bar-rock band, known for the complex and intertextual lyrical mythology woven throughout their albums, following the adventures of an (occasionally) apostate streetrat, a quasi-Rastafari delinquent, an occasionally precognitive pyschic and a ne'er-do-well pimp, through the eyes of various narrators, mostly extreme hedonists, and built over old-school epic riffs.

  • Almost Killed Me (2004)
  • Separation Sunday (2005)
  • Boys and Girls in America (2006)
  • Stay Positive (2008)
  • Heaven Is Whenever (2010)
  • Teeth Dreams (2014)

The Hold Steady provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Typical of Craig Finn's lyrics.
  • Age Progression Song
  • Anachronic Order: The Myth Arc
    • The songs on Stay Positive are organized so that they flow together musically and the actual plot is slowly and cryptically revealed song by song, and each song isn't necessarily taking place directly after the one before it. If the album were to be rearranged in chronological order, it would go something like this: "Joke About Jamaica" (at least the first part), "Lord, I'm Discouraged," "Yeah Sapphire," "Both Crosses," "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "One for the Cutters," "Slapped Actress," then "Ask Her For Adderall." "Navy Sheets" seems to be a reflection on the events of the past summer and takes place at an unknown point in time after "Ask Her For Adderall." "Stay Positive" and "Magazines" are essentially I Am Songs for the main characters.
  • Audience Participation Song: Craig Finn is a vocal believer in these, and many songs have singalong choruses.
  • B.S.O.D. Song: "Crucifixion Cruise".
  • Call Back: Holly, Gideon, and Charlemagne all make appearances in "First Night" and "Ask Her for Adderall", providing neat epilogues to Separation Sunday.
    • Occurs across albums: in "Killer Parties" from Almost Killed Me, Finn sings "If they ask about Charlemagne/Be polite and say something vague." On the next album, Separation Sunday, the song "Don't Let Me Explode" contains the line "He asked what happened to Charlemagne/She just smiled all polite-like and said something vague."
    • Again, on "Chips Ahoy" from Boys And Girls In America, one of the main characters is a girl who makes money by being able to predict the winners in horse races. Two albums later, on Heaven Is Whenever, the song "The Weekenders" opens with the lines "There was that whole weird thing with the horses/I think they know exactly what happened/I don't think it needs any explaining" then later continues "I wish we hadn't gone and destroyed it/'cause I was thinking we could pull another weekender/If you've still got a little bit of clairvoyance"
    • "Certain Songs" contains the line "the hard drugs are for the bartenders." "The Cattle and the Creeping Things" includes the lyric "Silly rabbit/Tripping is for teenagers/Murder is for murderers/And hard drugs are for bartenders/I think I might have mentioned that before."
  • Cliffhanger: The last we hear of Charlemagne on Stay Positive is that he's "hiding from the gentlemen/with the same tattoos as Gideon."
  • Continuity Nod: Very often.
  • Concept Album: Most notably Separation Sunday. Stay Positive is loosely based around a murder mystery; the others are more thematic in concept.
  • Cover Version: Their first single was backed with Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" They have also covered Dylan and Springsteen, and released Rags, a cover EP.
  • Darker and Edgier: In her first appearance ("Chips Ahoy") the psychic is using her power to win bets. When she reappears, it's in the haunting, creepy "Both Crosses," in which she's tormented by visions of the murder from "One for the Cutters."
  • Epic Rocking: "Constructive Summer" and "Slapped Actress", which open and close Stay Positive. They also often close concerts with long renditions of "Most People Are DJs" or "How A Resurrection Really Feels".
  • Hakuna Matata: "Constructive Summer."
  • Hookers and Blow
  • "I Am" Song: "Chips Ahoy" establishes the character of the psychic.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The Myth Arc. Almost Killed Me appears to be the beginning/scene-setting, and Separation Sunday outlines the larger Myth Arc all the way to "How A Resurrection Really Feels", which is obviously the Grand Finale (being about Holly's return and spiritual rebirth). But songs from all the later albums seem to fit back into that larger arc, showing various episodes along the way.
  • Large Ham: Craig Finn on stage.
  • Metaphor Gotten: "Multitude of Casualties": "She drove it like she stole it/And she stole it fast and with a multitude of casualties."
  • Motor Mouth: Craig Finn can spew rough-but-gorgeous prose-poetry in a fairly fast fashion; the many internal rhymes and consonantal musicality intensifies it, though, often making it sound as if he's tripping over his own words.
  • Murder Ballad: The story arc of Stay Positive.
  • Not Christian Rock: The Hold Steady write songs about Catholicism, but they're not a Christian rock band. It's all mixed up in drug taking, sex, and teenage rebellion anyway...
    "I guess I heard about original sin, I heard the dude blamed the chick, I heard the chick blamed the snake. I heard they were naked when they got busted, and I heard things ain't been the same since."
  • Rockstar Song: "Rock Problems."
  • Shout-Out: Lots. Referencing poets, books, old and current bands, and lines and characters from their own songs and others', often in the same song, is standard.
  • Special Guest: The guest vocals on "Chillout Tent" from Boys And Girls In America? Dave Pirner.
  • The Song Before The Storm - "Joke About Jamaica" is a soft, nostalgic ballad just before the climactic "Slapped Actress."
  • Title Drop: "And I got bored when I didn't have a band/So I started a band, man/We're gonna start it with a positive jam/Hold Steady"
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: If you want to pick up all the references. The non-linear narrative of Separation Sunday, for example, is best appreciated with in-depth knowledge of both Biblical mythology and Irish-American Catholic heritage. It also helps if you know your way around the Twin Cities.