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Review: It's a unified scene with the Hold Steady

Posted 9:07am on Monday, Jul. 12, 2010

DALLAS -- It's hard to think of a more perfect Saturday night band than the Hold Steady.

Goading listeners into cutting loose and feeling the pure, electric abandon of rock and roll bashed out with more passion than precision, these Brooklyn-based musicians create music that has an immediate effect on an audience. There's no pretense, no ambitions beyond the communal good cheer that comes from a really great rock show and a few beers with friends.

If it sounds simple, it is. How novel that plugging in and playing solid songs is enough to sustain a career in an era of over-hyped and underdeveloped pabulum.

Saturday at the Granada Theater, as the opening notes of Sweet Part of the City, a track from the Hold Steady's latest record, Heaven Is Whenever, worked their way through the faintly stifling air, a muscular roar rose to greet them: It was going to be a good night.

In his endearingly spastic way, frontman Craig Finn -- bespectacled and smartly clad in the rock nerd uniform (jeans, plaid button-down); one of us! one of us! -- made sure the crowd got its money's worth. Leaping about and ripping through staples of the Steady's catalog (Sequestered in Memphis, You Can Make Him Like You), Finn held the room in the palm of his hand. Those in attendance probably would've marched on City Hall if he'd asked them.

This six-member version of the Hold Steady tackled much of the superb Heaven Is Whenever, including a gorgeous reading of We Can Get Together and a rip-snorting, set-closing romp through A Slight Discomfort. His guitar slung low and occasionally abandoned, Finn worked the front of the stage until his shirt was soaked through with sweat, as his sharply observed lyrics were flung back at him full force.

The Hold Steady's mantra is right there in Sweet Part of the City's final lines: "We like to play for you." And indeed, it was all there on stage: the coltish exuberance of a garage band mingled with the romantic soul of a poet. The Hold Steady is one of America's great rock bands, full stop. Fortunately for them, the only people the band feels the need to prove it to are the ones piled in front of them, night after night.

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