Four Days In The Life

I’m finally starting to decompress from a week in New York (that really began in Chicago the day before with improbably sharing a photo with Bruce Springsteen) where I saw the Hold Steady four times in four days at Brooklyn Bowl. As expected, it was an incredible (albeit sometimes stressful) experience, but that’s another story for a different day. What struck me is so much how so many people I came into contact with were really riding the wave of “nostalgia,” if you can call the celebration of a ten-year record just that. I suppose it’s possible, or it’s a sign of me aging, when I talked to more than one person that lamented for not being around for ‘the scene’, a series of what seemed to be halcyon days that really weren’t, more a lot of good times punctured by bad decisions or inexperience, but still remembered the same. Either way, I didn’t quite feel a hearkening back to the past as much as I did really love seeing so many lapsed fans that kind of tuned out at the turn of the decade when the future of the band seemed a little murky.

Photo by Rich Tarbell

Photo by Rich Tarbell

I mean, I get that, the early ‘10’s Hold Steady was a series of experiments that didn’t quite gel completely, trying to make due with Franz Nicolay’s departure and redefine a sound. But what we DID get is Steve Selvidge, a member of the band whose presence seems so vital it’s hard to imagine what the band would be like without him – the fact that Franz has returned to the fold with Steve in tow is not an abdication of what truly made The Hold Steady great in the first place, instead, it’s an embarrassment of riches. (I have quietly referred to this wishful thinking-turned-reality lineup as SuperSteady for many years, and oh my word, they did they NOT disappoint.) What these shows, these three reissues have told us is that The Hold Steady, in whatever form they are in these days and going forward are still capital-F, capital-D Fucking Dangerous.

Yes, they’re my favorite band, of course I’m going to say that. I defy anyone who has caught any of this year’s seven gigs to tell me different. They don’t really need to make any new music right now. The canon has been established. How mindblowing is it to hear Franz add genius flourishes to songs that he didn’t play on? Harmonica on “Sweet Part of the City”? Brilliant keys on “Spinners” (still in the running for one of THS’s best-ever songs) and the mind melt of bringing himself to the dance on “The Weekenders” which is surviving the years as one of the band’s weirdest compositions from a not-too happy era.

I have a stake in it, I know. November 30’s encore of “The Ballad of the Midnight Hauler,” a song I’ve gently requested from Craig for at least seven years before finally giving up, was a major surprise, something I’d never thought I’d hear again, much less get a shout out for my birthday. While I’ve been recognized before (it never stops feeling amazing), nothing tops that. I can’t stop smiling about it. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The thing that keeps flashing back to me are the faces. The faces of all of these people I’ve gotten to know over the years, whether in person by chance through the internet but never in person until now and countless others. I’ve watched all these people transform of the years, grow up, get older, turn into better versions of themselves, remember their journeys, remember mine, and remember it all still feels pretty sweet. I hope to never forget that, forget you, and hope that somehow, someway, we’ll all find each other again no matter what becomes of this band. It was a celebration of you guys, us guys and this beautiful, messy thing we all created together. That’s an amazing thing.

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