The Hold Steady, The New York Fund

Mike Hall 18/02/2007

The New York Fund are a country-tinged straight-up rock n roll band, lead by Glasgow-born vocalist Joseph McAdam, who tease out strains of sadness through a wall of perfectly pitched, passionate Americana. While never losing sight of their UK surroundings (see current single 'Guns of Camden'), the band are clearly indebted to such US luminaries as Whiskytown, Wilco and even The Band, but make such an honest and heartfelt job of it that any cries of copyism can be safely dumped for the duration.

Evidently a band of great musical skill, they also muster something very rare in the current era of rock: a proper guitar hero in the shape of the brilliantly unassuming Adrian Woodward. In a just world, a bright, bold future awaits.

THE HOLD STEADY are a band of similar influences and reference points but one that has honed those inspirations into anthems of such unswerving bittersweet joy that they have become utterly irresistible. Most of the material here tonight is drawn from their breakthrough album 'Boys and Girls in America', their first bona fide classic album and released in the UK only a few weeks ago.

It's both alarming and charming to see that much of the room knows most of the words (including backing vocals) and have no collective shame over airing their contributions as loudly and consistently as frontman Craig Finn, who is an astonishing band leader. Even when frantically clapping over solos, shouting to the audience off-mic and telling tales between tunes, it never seems that you are seeing a 'persona' - he actually appears to be the Real Deal; A manic fan who happened to put together his own favourite band.

And what a band they are; one that sweats commitment between slugs of Jameson's, bounces as hard during choruses as the teenage hardcore and looks as wistful and joyous as the greying 'Mojo' readers lining the back walls. It's worth noting that they throw out their two most well-known songs 'Stuck Between Stations' and 'Chips Ahoy' within the first ten minutes - not as a some kind of pose but as a way to instantly energise both themselves and the crowd and set them up for a further hour or more of huge choruses, babblingly brilliant lyrics and life-affirming singalongs.

For the uninitiated, their songs deal with, for the most part a semi-imagined history of Americans in their teens and twenties ('Stuck Between Stations'), Bukowski-tinged, booze-soaked lovers ('Chips Ahoy') and, most emotively, the loss of the halcyon days of first love and first kisses ('First Night' and the crushing 'Citrus').

The trick here is that it's all delivered with a smile on the face and not a hint of bitterness, a unification of band and crowd by mutual acknowledgement of shared youthful regrets.
They are unashamedly a rock band of and for the people in the same way their most obvious precursors The Replacements and The E-Street band were at their respective heights.

They're all twenty years older than whoever's on the cover of NME this week, a few stone heavier and a million times more drunk, but these are genuine rock'n rollers with tales to tell and the compelling means by which to do it. The Hold Steady are the most entertaining, heartbreakingly honest, pure rock band filling a bar-room stage today, and in a vacuous, hairstyle-based music scene, they come as some relief.